'I'm tough on crime': Trump and DeSantis duke it out over pro-death penalty stance

'I'm tough on crime': Trump and DeSantis duke it out over pro-death penalty stance
Image via Creative Commons.

When it comes to the death penalty, the United States is out of step with many of its allies. A long list of countries in the European Union (EU) have long since abolished capital punishment, from Italy to Sweden to the Republic of Ireland — as have the United States' neighbors to the north (Canada) and south (Mexico). Australia hasn't had an execution since 1967, and in 2010, the Australian Commonwealth Parliament voted to prohibit any state from reintroducing the death penalty.

Yet in the U.S., some far-right MAGA Republicans not only want to see the death penalty used more often — they want to expand it to include crimes other than murder. Two of them are former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appears to be gearing up for a 2024 presidential run even though he has yet to make a formal announcement.

Journalist Gary Fineout, in an article published by Politico on April 17, stresses that Trump and DeSantis are both making a concerted effort to show fellow Republicans how pro-death penalty they are. Trump, Fineout notes, proposes expanding the death penalty to include drug trafficking; some DeSantis' allies in the Florida State Legislature, according to Fineout, want "the death penalty to be imposed on" anyone "convicted of raping a child despite a narrowly-decided U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2008 that found such punishments unconstitutional."

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"Ahead of a likely presidential bid," Fineout reports, "Gov. Ron DeSantis is leaning into a reliable campaign message: I’m tough on crime…. DeSantis' record on criminal justice is something that allies of former President Donald Trump have already hit the governor on. They criticized him for signing a bill in 2019 that raised the amount that must be stolen for someone to be charged with a felony. The Make America Great Again PAC, last month, claimed that 'while President Trump is the only presidential candidate calling for the death penalty for drug dealers, DeSantis is giving a pass to thieves.'"

Much of the U.S., however, has been rethinking the death penalty. In 2022, according to France's Le Monde, only six U.S. states carried out executions: Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi and Arizona. Florida didn't have any executions in 2022, but Fineout notes that DeSantis has "signed three death warrants so far this year."

Mother Jones reporter Noah Lanard, in an article published on April 15, stresses that DeSantis opposes Florida's current requirement that a jury be unanimous in order for the death penalty to be imposed.

"Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the verge of signing a bill that would allow people in Florida to be executed without a unanimous decision by a jury," Lanard reports. "Instead, an 8-4 vote would be enough for someone to be put to death in the state. The bill passed the Florida Senate last month and passed the House on Thursday, (April 13) by an 80-30 margin. The bill has been a priority for DeSantis, who opposed the decision not to sentence to death the Parkland school shooter who killed 17 people in 2018. Three jurors voted against the death penalty in that case."

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In the U.S., the legality or illegality of the death penalty varies from state to state. According to the Washington Post, 27 states still have the death penalty — and out of that 27, only three allow the death penalty without a jury's unanimous approval during a trial's penalty phase.

In 24 of those states, a jury could find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder but spare the person's life if one of the jurors votes against imposing the death penalty. In that scenario, the jury could be unanimous with the guilty verdict but have a hung jury with the penalty phase — which would likely mean life without parole but not execution for the person convicted. That is why pro-death penalty prosecutors, during jury selection or voir dire in capital murder cases, often ask prospective jurors how they feel about capital punishment.

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View Fineout's full report at this link. Explore Lanard's here.

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