Jessica's Law

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Jessica's Law is the informal name given to a 2005 Florida law, as well as laws in several other states, designed to protect potential victims and reduce a sexual offender's 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 sexually battered 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 was classifying lewd or lascivious molestation on a person under the age of 12 as a life felony, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison[1] and lifetime electronic monitoring[2] of adults convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim less than 12 years old. The statute also requires that if an offender is sentenced to a term of years, he or she must be given lifetime probation following the imprisonment. In Florida, another charge, capital sexual battery is defined as: A person 18 years of age or older who commits sexual battery upon, or in an attempt to commit sexual battery injures the sexual organs of, a person less than 12 years of age commits a capital felony. The charge carries a mandatory life sentence.[3]

Jessica Lunsford Act[edit]

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.

Bill objectives[edit]

The bill, if passed, would have greatly 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[edit]

Some controversy exists regarding how a person becomes labeled a sex offender. Most Americans believe 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 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 most states, is followed by automatic sexual-offender registration regardless of judicial discretion, such as decreed by Florida Statute 943.0436.[4] In addition there is little or no evidence that restrictions on where sex offenders may live has any effect on reducing sexual crimes. In fact, residency restrictions have tendency to drive offenders homeless making them almost impossible to track for the police and thus have become counter-productive[5] These aspects of the laws have been criticized by reformist groups and child safety advocates such as RSOL[6] and Patty Wetterling[7][8][9][10][11] and professional and human rights organizations such as ATSA,[12][13] ACLU[14] and Human Right Watch.[15][16]

Registration is for 10 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 the 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 plethysmography (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. 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 other potential victims. Unfortunately, the trend moving from risk-based to strictly offense based tiers has made determination of individual risk harder for general population, and possibly made society less safe.[12] Currently only few states are applying risk-based systems which have been shown to be effective,[12] while the federal government is pressuring them to adopt less efficient offense-based systems in accordance to Adam Walsh Act.

The controversy is captured in the award-winning documentary "Jessie's Dad", which shows Mark Lunsford's transformation from an uneducated truck driver to a savvy activist. Directed and produced by Boaz Dvir, this hour-long film has earned a 5-star rating (highest possible) on iTunes and Amazon.


The constitutionality of various versions of Jessica's Law are sometimes criticized by the courts;[17][18][19] some of these challenges are attracting support from law enforcement agencies, parole boards, and mental health professionals tasked with the treatment of sexual offenders.

Impact on offender's family members[edit]

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 and Notification Act (SORNA) Litigation, Jane Doe I, et al. v. Thomas Phillips et al.[20] 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."

See also[edit]

December 2011 Jessica's Law successfully applied in animal sex abuse case:


  1. ^ "FL Statute 800.04". FL legislation. 
  2. ^ "FL Statute 947.1405". FL legislation. 
  3. ^ "FL Statute 794.011 2(B)". FL Legislation. 
  4. ^ Welcome : Online Sunshine
  5. ^ Keegan, Kyle (12 May 2014). "Where are sex offenders? Jessica's Law complicates monitoring". Orange County Register. 
  6. ^ Lovett, Ian (October 1, 2013). "Restricted Group Speaks Up, Saying Sex Crime Measures Go Too Far". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Patty Wetterling questions sex offender laws". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Wetterling, Patty (14 September 2007). "Patty Wetterling: The harm in sex-offender laws". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 14 September 2007. 
  9. ^ Gunderson, Dan (18 June 2007). "Sex offender laws have unintended consequences". MPR news. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Mellema, Matt (11 August 2014). "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Sethi, Chanakya (15 August 2014). "Reforming the Registry". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c "The Registration and Community Notification of Adult Sexual Offenders". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "Sexual Offender Residence Restrictions". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Jacobs, Deborah. "Why Sex Offender Laws Do More Harm Than Good". american -civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  15. ^ "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US". Human Rights Watch. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  16. ^ Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US Human Rights Watch 2013 ISBN 978-1-62313-0084
  17. ^ Wilson, Dan: "Appleton attorney fights 'Jessica's Law' on mandatory sex offender sentencing", "Post-Crescent", March 21, 2009.
  18. ^ Schneider, Betty: "JESSICA'S LAW TRIGGERS LEGAL MESS FOR STATE.", "Daily News" (Los Angeles, CA), Dec. 10, 2006.
  19. ^ Simerman, John: "Prop. 83, Jessica's Law: Lockyer's balancing act", "Oakland Tribune", Nov. 29, 2006.
  20. ^ Supreme Court Home Page
  • Arthur A. Benson II. Jane Doe I, et al. v. Thomas Phillips et al. (Case No. SC86573). May 2006.
  • Carl Jones. "Porn Law Goes Too Far". Daily Business Review. April 10, 2006.
  • Internet Broadcasting Systems and "Groups Propose Tier System For Sex Registry". May 2006.
  • Rebecca Van Drunen. Confederation College. "Outcast Society: A Closer Look at North American Sexual Offenders in the Twenty-First Century". May 5, 2006.
  • Sharon Wilson. "Sex Offenders: The Other Side". Orlando Sentinel. 23 October 2005.

External links[edit]