Most aspects of Jessica's Law are untouched

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Most aspects of Jessica's Law are untouched

Post  Jennie on Fri Jun 27, 2008 8:28 pm

DEATH PENALTY RULING'S IMPACT ON TEXAS----Most aspects of Jessica's Law are untouched


Although they will not face execution, criminals who sexually assault Texas children will serve longer sentences without the possibility of parole under provisions of Jessica's Law not affected by Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

No one in Texas has been sentenced to death under the provisions of the law, which went into effect last September.

The death penalty provision reserved for a narrow category of repeat child sex offenders received the most attention last year when state lawmakers debated the high-profile bill.

But the bill also made other significant changes, including mandatory minimum sentences and a new offense continuous sexual abuse designed to let prosecutors present cases involving a series of victims in one trial.

"A lot of other things that are going to be used much more frequently are untouched by this decision," said Shannon Edmonds, governmental affairs director for the Texas District & County Attorneys Association.

A clause in the law provides that the rest of it will stand if the death penalty portion was found unconstitutional.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made Jessica's Law a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. The law is named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped and slain in 2005 by a convicted sex offender living near her home.

During the 2007 legislative session, the death penalty provision faced opposition from an unexpected group victims advocates who feared the bill would result in fewer convictions.

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault said in a statement on its Web site Wednesday that it supports the Supreme Court's decision, handed down in a Louisiana case involving a similar law.

"The issue of child sexual abuse is complex. Most child sexual abuse victims are abused by a family member or close family friend. The reality is that child victims and their families don't want to be responsible for sending a grandparent, cousin or longtime family friend to death row," the statement said.

The Texas law tailored its toughest provisions for a specific type of offender, someone who raped a child under 6 or who used violence (such as a weapon or drug) to rape a child under 14.

A 1st conviction under those circumstances would carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years.

A person who served a sentence, was released and offended again would have been eligible for the death penalty. With the Supreme Court's ruling, a repeat offender automatically would be sentenced to life without parole.

(source: Houston Chronicle)
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