Tampa Tribune

April 15, 2004


A bill moving through the state Senate would outlaw the execution of killers who are younger than 18 when they commit murder.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, says he sponsored the bill because it will preserve Florida’s capital punishment law if the U.S. Supreme Court decides the death penalty can be imposed only on adults.

Florida law today allows the death penalty for 17-year-old killers, but the nation’s high court will soon decide whether executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment’s bar against cruel and unusual punishment.

Two years ago the justices banned the death penalty for mentally retarded killers, but they still allow states to execute murderers who kill at age 16.

We are not opposed to state lawmakers making a determination about the age for executions. The elected Legislature is the proper body to decide whether to restrict or abolish the death penalty.

Just because a state reserves the right to execute a murderer who kills as a juvenile is no guarantee that child will ever enter the death chamber. Take Lee Boyd Malvo, the teenage half of the Washington-area sniper team that left 10 people dead two years ago. Malvo faced the death penalty during his first trial, but the jury recommended a life sentence.

There are people supporting Crist’s bill because they understand that raising the age for executions is another step toward rejecting capital punishment altogether.

Those sentiments shouldn’t cloud the issue. Crist has a strong record of being tough on crime. No juvenile has been executed in Florida since 1948, so a ban’s impact would be minimal.

Meanwhile, Florida’s right to impose the death penalty for the most heinous crimes would remain intact.


Tampa Tribune