Dewhurst Gets Tough On Sex Offenders - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/15/07 - Austin, Texas

Dewhurst Gets Tough On Sex Offenders

A get-tough measure to punish sex offenders who abuse children, one of the top issues for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the legislative session, was filed Wednesday with minimum 25-year sentences for first convictions and the death-penalty option for repeat molesters.

Greenville Republican Sen. Bob Deuell filed the bill, which has raised concerns among prosecutors and victims' rights groups.

They worry the tougher measures could make it harder to get convictions in cases that are already difficult to prosecute and could lead to even more violence against children.

Legal experts question whether the death penalty is constitutional in a sex case.

If Senate Bill 5 is passed, Deuell and Dewhurst said it would be a major deterrent to stop sex offenders.

"We want to spread the word: Don't molest kids," Dewhurst said. "Justice will be severe."

Gov. Rick Perry also has given the bill emergency status for the session. The bill has four major provisions:

  • Minimum sentences of 25 years to life for first-time violent sex offenses against children younger than 14.
  • Lifetime global positioning satellite tracking for offenders.
  • Allow for the death penalty for a second offense against a child younger than 14.
  • Double the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children from 10 to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday.
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a death sentence for a Georgia man convicted of raping a woman, calling it an "excessive penalty for the rapist, who as such, does not take human life."

Five other states have passed death-penalty laws similar to the one proposed in Texas.

Although no one has been executed, one Louisiana inmate is on death row for the rape of an 8-year-old girl. That case is still being reviewed by state and federal appeals courts.

Dewhurst said he discussed the issue with prosecutors and several judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles death-penalty appeals.

He thinks the bill would be constitutional because it is narrowly tailored to a second offense against a child victim.

Dewhurst declined to identify whom he spoke with among the nine appeals judges.

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault previously opposed the death penalty in child-sex cases for fear it could lead to victims being killed.

Spokeswoman Torie Camp backed off that stance Wednesday, saying it would likely only be sought in the worst, most violent cases. The death-penalty provision would not be mandatory.

More troublesome for victims' groups is the 25-year minimum sentence for a first-time offender. As most sexual abuse of children is committed by a family member or close friend, families may be reluctant to report the crime if it means a long sentence for a loved one, Camp said.

Cost estimates of the lifetime GPS monitoring would be about $14 a day, or $5,110 per year per offender, Dewhurst said.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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