Jessica’s Law is the informal name given to a 2005 Florida law, as well as laws in several other states, designed to punish sex offenders and reduce their ability to re-offend. A version of Jessica’s Law, known as the Jessica Lunsford Act, was introduced at the federal level in 2005 but was never enacted into law by Congress.
The name is also used by the media to designate all legislation and potential legislation in other states modeled after the Florida law. Forty-two states have introduced such legislation since Florida’s law was passed.
The law is named after Jessica Lunsford, a young Florida girl who was raped and murdered in February 2005 by John Couey, a previously convicted sex offender. Public outrage over this case spurred Florida officials to introduce this legislation. Among the key provisions of the law are a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring of adults convicted of lewd or lascivious acts against a victim less than 12 years old. In Florida, sexual battery or rape of a child less than twelve years old is punishable by life imprisonment with no chance of parole.
Jessica Lunsford Act
The Jessica Lunsford Act (H.R. 1505 of the 109th Congress), was a proposed federal law in the United States — modeled after the Florida state law — which, if adopted, would have mandated more stringent tracking of released sex offenders.
The bill, if passed, would have reduced federal grant money under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. § 14071) and Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. § 3765) to any U.S. State that failed to conform its sex offender registration laws to the following:
* Sex offenders would have been required to wear Global Positioning System devices on their ankles for five years following their release from prison, or for life for those deemed sexual predators, to better enable law enforcement personnel to track their whereabouts. The costs of tracking and monitoring offenders would have been absorbed by each State.
* States would have been required to mail sex offender registration forms at least twice per year, at random times, to verify registrants’ addresses. Any registrants who did not respond within 10 days would have to be considered non-compliant.
The bill was introduced by U.S. Republican Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite from Florida on April 6, 2005. It had 107 cosponsors and was referred to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, but it was never voted upon (either by any committee or the full Congress), and it died when the 109th Congress finally adjourned.
Controversy and criticism
Some controversy exists regarding how a person becomes labeled as a sex offender. Most Americans believe that the registry lists convicted child molesters when in actuality, some offenders listed on the Registries have been convicted of non-violent offenses, which involve no visible victim or no physical contact. An example of such would include online talk with an undercover police officer posing as an underage minor. Teenagers involved in a consensual sexual relationship, known as “Romeo and Juliet” relationships, with the male or female partner considered underage in the eyes of the law, may also be listed as sex offenders on the nation’s registries. However, they would not be affected by a Jessica’s Law such as the one in Florida, since such laws only apply to adults who have committed offenses with victims under the age of 12. Most charged persons lack adequate funding for a legal defense to fight such charges. The result is a plea bargain, which in some states, is followed by automatic sexual-offender registration regardless of judicial discretion, such as decreed by Florida Statute 943.0436.
Registration is for 20 years to life, requiring psychological therapy with a wide range of evaluation and treatment for the sex offender. That determine the risk to re-offend, amenability for outpatient treatment and specific treatment and supervision needs, psychosexual evaluation conducted according to the guidelines of the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Evaluations include a review of criminal records/victim statements, a battery of psychological tests, clinical interviews (conducted over a series of appointments to help the offender overcome denial) and psycho-physiologic sexual arousal patterns involving penile phallometry(PPG) testing for sexual offenders that is typically used to determine the level of sexual arousal as the subject is exposed to sexually suggestive content, such as pictures, movies or audio. It has been demonstrated by most studies (who? / citation needed) to be the most accurate method of identifying which sexual offenders will go on to commit sexual crimes against children, although there are clinicians who have noted that this does not mean the test is appropriate for the evaluation of sexual preferences or treatment effects. The penile phallometry (PPG) is a highly controversial and invasive procedure in itself. Advocates against such legislation believe politicians have run unchecked with this issue, due to guaranteed press coverage, easy votes and the guarantee of federal funding for law enforcement with the passage of one new sex offender law annually. An overhaul of the nation’s registries through the incorporation of a tier level system is advocated as a method which would allow the public to more accurately determine the risk of a registered offender living in their neighborhood while allowing law enforcement to more effectively supervise those considered truly dangerous not only to children but also to women and the elderly.
The constitutionality of various versions of Jessica’s Law are sometimes criticized by the courts; some of these challenges are attracting support from law enforcement agencies, parole boards, and mental health professionals tasked with the treatment of sexual offenders top
Impact on offender’s family members
Advocates for convicted sex offenders claim that the civil rights of convicted persons and their non-offending family members is forever affected, long after the punishment has ended. Internet publication of sex offenders home addresses continues to be upheld by the court in the name of public safety, although April 2006 vigilante type murders in Maine have brought new concerns of misuse of the registry and for the safety of nonoffending family members by private parties. Missouri civil rights attorney Arthur Benson currently waits decision from the Missouri Supreme Court regarding the Sex Offenders Registration Act SORA Litigation, Jane Doe I, et al. v. Thomas Phillips et al. which “contends the act violates substantive due process rights and equal protection rights because it infringes on fundamental liberty rights, imposes a lifetime stigma, has no express purpose and, even if it serves a compelling interest, is not narrowly tailored or rationally related to that interest. They assert that, if the act is deemed to be criminal in nature, it violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws because it imposes an additional punishment, thereby altering the consequences for a crime for which they already have been sentenced.”
In the media
John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted and Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor have been vocal proponents of Jessica’s Law, arguing that children have to be protected and that child sex offenders have to be held to a much higher standard. O’Reilly points out that the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Vermont have shown reluctance and refused to pass a Jessica’s Law in their respective state legislatures. He claims that Utah, North Carolina and New Mexico are inconclusive while all other states are either moving in the direction of passing a Jessica’s Law or have already passed some form of it. North Carolina passed the Jessica Lunsford Act in 2008.