TALLAHASSEE - A new law that could lead to imposing the death penalty on people who rape children under age 12 will take effect Sunday.
The controversial measure likely will draw legal challenges, as U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court precedents have barred death sentences for rapists.
During a May 1 bill-signing event in Brevard County, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the measure is "for the protection of children."
"Unfortunately, in our society, we have very heinous sex crimes that are committed against children under the age of 12 years old," DeSantis said. "These are really the worst of the worst. The perpetrators of these crimes are often serial offenders."
Judges would have the discretion to impose the death penalty or sentence defendants to life in prison. If fewer than eight jurors recommend death, judges would have to impose life sentences.
The bill would affect what is known as the sentencing phase of cases. Juries would still need to unanimously find defendants guilty of the crimes before the sentencing phase would begin.
The measure was approved 34-5 in the Senate and 95-14 in the House.
In voting against the measure in April, Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the bill presented her with a "quandary."
"I love kids, and I'll do anything to protect them," Osgood said. "But I struggle from a faith perspective. If I believe in my faith that God can redeem and save anybody, then how do I support someone getting the death penalty? And I'm just talking about me. That's my struggle. That's my challenge."
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