Proposed Jessiica's Law Requires Caution

Waco Tribune [Texas]
February 19, 2007

It would be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find someone who didn't want to do everything possible to protect children from sex offenders.

Texas lawmakers have filed more than 30 bills this legislative session to crack down on sex offenders.

All four candidates for governor this past election supported legislation to get tougher on child sex offenders.

The challenge is to find the best and most effective way to prevent children from becoming victims of sex offenders.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and supported by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst would allow the death penalty option for repeat child predators.

The proposed legislation, which would be referred to as Jessica's Law, was inspired by the death of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, abducted from her Florida home, raped and killed in March 2005.

This horrific crime has spurred lawmakers in a number of states to pass stronger child sex-offender laws.

Besides the death penalty option, this version of Jessica's Law also calls for minimum sentences of 25 years to life for first-time violent sex offenses against children younger than 14; doubles the statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children from 10 to 20 years; and mandates lifetime monitoring of convicted child sex offenders by employing global-positioning technology.

Surprisingly to some, Deuell's proposals have drawn opposition from many prosecutors, victims' rights groups and legal experts. They believe the death penalty provision is unconstitutional. They also believe it could hurt, not help, efforts to protect children from sexual predators.

These on-the-ground experts believe juries would be more hesitant to convict sex offenders if the death penalty looms. They also warn that sex offenders would be more likely to kill their victims so there would be no witnesses.

Also, since most child sex abuse occurs in families, the death penalty might be a deterrent to reporting the crime, which would expose victims to more abuse.

Lawmakers should listen to the experts. No one wants to make matters worse.


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