A law making child rape subject to the death penalty was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who defied a Supreme Court ruling on the issue, USA Today reports. "In Florida, we stand for the protection of children," DeSantis said Monday. "We think that in the worst of the worst cases, the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment." In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling barring states from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child, when the crime does not involve a child’s death. The court majority said that applying the death penalty in such cases would amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.” DeSantis has said he thinks the current conservative-majority Supreme Court may be willing to revisit the earlier ruling. The Florida measure allows a jury by a vote of at least 8-4 to recommend a death sentence for sexual battery on a child under the age of 12. It passed with support from both parties in both chambers and will take effect on Oct. 1. Only three Democrats and two Republicans voted against the legislation in the Senate.
With the swipe of a pen, DeSantis made Florida the state with the lowest death penalty threshold in the country by signing a law saying that only eight of 12 jury members may recommend a death sentence. Before, death penalties required a unanimous jury decision. The move comes months after a Broward County jury rejected the death penalty for the man who killed 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Three jurors wanted a life sentence and not the death penalty, drawing criticism from the governor as well as many lawmakers and victims' family members, who felt the shooter got off too easy. The law allows a judge to deviate from a jury that recommends a death sentence and give life in prison instead. It does not permit the judge to impose death against a jury's wishes. Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations, with 30 people cleared since the state brought back capital punishment in the 1970s. Opponents worry that making death penalty laws stricter will lead to more innocent people on death row. Starting on Jan. 23, the day DeSantis announced he wanted lawmakers to lower the death penalty threshold, he has signed multiple death warrants after a more-than-three-year hiatus of not signing them.