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DeSantis expands death penalty to include child rape, setting up likely court challenge

The bill was one of several DeSantis signed as he sends a "tough-on-crime" message ahead of a likely 2024 presidential run.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Oxon Hill, Md., on April 21, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was prepared to defend the law in the courts.Alex Brandon / AP file

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday allowing for the death penalty for child rapists, setting up a potential Supreme Court challenge.

The bill, which will become law Oct. 1, makes sexual battery of a person under 12 a capital crime.

DeSantis, a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has sought to project a law-and-order message as he tries to take Florida's policies to a national audience. In a statement announcing the bill’s signing, DeSantis touted his "tough-on-crime policies."

"We think that in the worst of the worst cases, the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment, and so this bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent," DeSantis said at a Monday news conference in Titusville, Florida, speaking behind a podium with a sign that said "Law & Order."

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the Florida House and Senate, is the state's second change to death penalty policy in recent months. In April, DeSantis signed a bill that lowered the threshold of jurors needed to recommend the death penalty from 12 to eight.

The bill signed Monday goes against a 2008 Supreme Court decision preventing states from imposing the death penalty for child rape if the victim does not die. At the time, a coalition of social workers and organizations opposing sexual violence had supported the court's decision, arguing that making child sexual abuse a capital punishment would leave victims more reluctant to name their abusers and increase the incentives for child rapists to kill their victims.

In a statement, DeSantis said he is prepared to "take this law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," charging judicial precedents with "unjustly" shielding child rapists from the death penalty.