"Jessica's Law" Takes Effect Next Saturday - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

08/23/07-Tyler

"Jessica's Law" Takes Effect Next Saturday

We've been reporting this week on many new laws on the books in Texas. Most of them take effect next Saturday, September 1.

One of the most talked about, not just here but nationwide, is Jessica's Law.  It's meant to crack down on child sexual predators with punishments up to and including the death penalty.  

Jessica Lunsford was only nine years old when she was kidnapped, sexually brutalized, and buried alive in Florida in 2005.  It was one of the most brutal crimes imaginable.

Across the country now, Jessica's Law is in force.   Now in Texas, too.

It requires a minimum sentence of 25 years for a sexually violent offense against a child under 14.   Many offenders will be ineligible for parole. 

It also mandates GPS monitoring of offenders.  And the statute of limitations, now extends to 20 years past the victims 18th birthday.

"I think people are beginning to believe more when a child says something," says Childrens Advocacy Center of Smith County director Carol Langston.

She says stronger laws mean some predators will decide not to go to trial.

"It's sometimes a good thing for the child because they won't be traumatized by a court trial and having to testify in front of strangers, but again the sentencing is usually less in a guilty plea," she says.

There is another part to Jessica's Law.   It makes a second conviction of a sexually violent crime against a child a capital felony. That means the death penalty is in play.

"There is a concern that a child may not report that, and would not want to talk to anyone if there is a possibility they know that the death penalty is involved," Langston said.

A predator might do something worse.

"[The criminal] might possibly decide to kill the child so there is not a witness," she said.

There is a constitutional challenge to that part of Jessica's Law in another state.

Overall, Langston say's she's happy with what Texas lawmakers got done.

"I think they did a real good job.  I think they put measures in place that will protect the children, and I think it is a good move forward."

Jessica's Law in Texas takes effect September 1.

Morgan Palmer, Reporting morganpalmer@kltv.com

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