Jessica's Law Closer to the Governor's Desk

A state bill called "Jessica's Law" is another step closer to the Governor's desk. The proposed law would increase mandatory minimum sentences for a number of sex crimes against children. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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The proposed legislation also would allow for the death penalty for two-time aggravated sexual assault offenders. But even some supporters of the bill say that part of the provision is not likely. Houston Mayor's Crime Victim's Office Director Andy Kahan says the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether this punishment is constitutional.

"And if the court rules that anyone who doesn't murder another individual is not eligible for the death penalty then you are looking at life in prison without parole. So either way, predators who continually sexually abuse and sexually assault our children are going to be locked away for a long time period."

A case in Louisiana is expected to go before the Supreme Court. If the court does rule it unconstitutional then the punishment for two time sex offenders reverts to life without parole. Kahan says another part of the bill creates a new class of sex offense for on-going sexual abuse.

"In a lot of cases in particular with young children they have a very difficult time of actually naming the specific dates when they were sexually assaulted so this basically gives a broader perspective, a broader picture where they are not tied into a specific date and time which is very difficult for young children to actually remember."

Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Legislative Director Keith Hampton says the state does not need another class of sex offense. Hampton points out the provision eliminates jury unanimity.

"If there are four acts that are alleged, three jurors may have a reasonable doubt about three of them. Another three have a reasonable doubt about other ones and yet they are all going to come back with a guilty verdict."

Hampton is concerned that it increases the likelihood of innocent people being convicted. Another part of the bill would remove the statute of limitations on some sex offenses. In other cases it doubles it from ten to 20 years past the 18th birthday. The legislation is named after Jessica Lunsford, a nine year old girl who was abducted from her Florida home. It's likely the legislation will go to conference committee before moving on to the Governor's desk. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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