Florida’s new law, HB 1297, aimed at child rapists, has garnered significant attention and support since it was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. The law, which went into effect on October 1, passed with strong majorities in both the State Senate (34-5) and the State House (95-14).
Governor DeSantis emphasized the severity of sex crimes against children under the age of 12, stating that they are among the most heinous offenses. He also expressed his belief that the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that deemed the death penalty unconstitutional for child sexual battery cases should be reconsidered. He sees these crimes as deserving the harshest punishment, stating that the worst of the worst offenders often commit such crimes repeatedly.
The new law introduces a procedure to challenge the 2008 precedent and asserts that in Florida, the gravest crimes warrant the most severe punishment. The minimum sentence under the law is life in prison without the possibility of parole, ensuring that those who harm children in such horrific ways will never be free.
HB 1297 emphasizes the grave risk of death and danger to vulnerable members of the state posed by individuals who commit sexual battery on children under 12 years old. The bill condemns these crimes as destroying a child’s innocence and violating the standards of decency held by civilized society.
The statute also asserts that the Florida Legislature believes that prior court decisions, such as Buford v. State of Florida and Kennedy v. Louisiana, which ruled the death penalty for child rape as cruel and unusual, were wrongly decided and infringed upon the state’s power to punish the most heinous crimes.
While the law is in effect, it may not impact cases immediately, as the Legislature acknowledged that it hopes the law will lead to changes in the legal landscape. Furthermore, child sexual abuse often involves abusers known to the child, complicating death penalty cases and potentially placing the burden on the victim to navigate the complexities of the justice system. Nevertheless, for many, the law represents a necessary step to protect children from repeat offenders and to ensure the harshest punishment for the gravest crimes.