On December 14, 2023, Lake County, Florida prosecutors announced they are seeking the death penalty for a man accused of committing the sexual battery of a minor under the age of twelve. A statement from the office of State Attorney William Gladson said the decision reflects the “severity of the crime and its impact on the community.” Earlier this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that expands death penalty eligibility to those convicted of sex crimes against children. This is the first case in which Florida prosecutors have sought a death sentence under the new law. 

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman that does not result in her death is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. In 2008, the Supreme Court similarly ruled in Kennedy v. Louisiana that a law making the death penalty an option for the crime of raping a child was unconstitutional. But according to language in the new bill, lawmakers opined that the Court’s ruling in Kennedy was “wrongly decided and that such cases are an egregious infringement of the states’ power to punish the most heinous of crimes.” The bill’s sponsor and a former prosecutor Senator Jonathan Martin told his colleagues that “the most serious crime like sexual battery on a child needs the most serious punishment and the most serious penalty and the most serious deterrent.” The bill passed the Florida legislature with bipartisan support and was passed in the same legislative session as a bill to lower the threshold for death penalty recommendations by Florida juries from unanimous to a vote of 8-4. 

Gov. DeSantis, who supported and signed both pieces of legislation, believes the Supreme Court will uphold Florida’s new child sexual battery law. “This bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent and to be able to say that in Florida we think that the worst of the worst crimes deserve the worst of the worst punishment,” said Gov. DeSantis. In a statement posted to social media, Gov. DeSantis praised the states’ attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty in this case. “The State’s Attorney has my full support.”


Romy Ellenbogen and Dan Sullivan, Florida seeks death penal­ty in Lake County sex abuse case under new law, Tampa Bay Times, December 14, 2023; Evan Rosen, Florida pros­e­cu­tor seeks death penal­ty for man charges with child sex­u­al abuse, Daily News, December 162023.