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Proposal to allow death penalty for child rapes should move forward

| Staff Reporters
In this week’s Eye on Government page, we have a story about a proposed bill making its way through the Florida Senate committees that would allow people convicted of sexual battery on children under the age of 12 to be sentenced to death.


We agree with Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Jonathan Martin, a Fort Myers Republican who is sponsoring the bill (SB 1342), who said sexual battery on a child is not a crime that happens accidentally.

Anyone who could rape a child is depraved and they don’t belong in society. We agree that the death penalty is appropriate in those cases.

It looks like the bill has some bipartisan support at this stage as well. Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Hollywood, Florida, suggested the committee look at some potential changes to the bill to help it withstand legal challenges.

“These are not crimes that you can ever be rehabilitated from,” Pizzo said. “No one has ever convinced me that you can be rehabilitated.”

A similar bill is making its way through the House.

One concern with the bills is that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have long barred death sentences for people who rape children, including a 2008 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a Louisiana case. However, Martin believes that could soon change with the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re going to kill you if you touch our little kids,” Martin said. “I’m OK with that.”

So are we.

While we support this bill and want to see it move forward, we’re a little more hesitant on a somewhat related bill that lawmakers are also currently discussing, one that would eliminate the requirement of unanimous jury recommendations before judges can impose death sentences in murder cases.

If that bill goes forward and is signed into law, it will allow death sentences to be imposed based on the recommendations of eight of 12 jurors.

The issue of revamping death-penalty laws emerged after Nikolas Cruz last year received a life sentence for the murders of 17 students and faculty members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. The life sentence came after a Broward County jury did not unanimously recommend death.

Since 1973, 190 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful convictions that put them there. According to a 2014 study that looked at three decades worth of data, 4.1% of people currently on death row may be innocent.

People make mistakes and sometimes innocent people get convicted. Knowing that, loosening the restrictions on who can be sentenced to death does seem a little scary.

It’s not hard to find examples of innocent people who have been executed for crimes they didn’t commit.

In 1989, Carlos DeLuna was executed for a homicide he didn’t commit. Cameron Willingham was put to death in 2004 for arson and triple homicide for a fire that was later proved to be accidental.

We were dismayed that Cruz did not receive the death penalty like many others, but we don’t believe the current law needs to be changed when it could result in more innocent people being executed for crimes they didn’t commit.

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