Some prosecutors question "Jessica's Law"

07/21/08 6:02PM By Sarah Ashworth

(Host) Meanwhile, some Vermont prosecutors question whether one of the governor's key proposals on sex offender legislation would be effective.

They say that it's possible that fewer sex offenders could be convicted under "Jessica's Law."

VPR's Sarah Ashworth has more.

(Ashworth)  State's attorneys in Vermont say cases of sex crimes against minors very rarely go to trial.  Most are resolved through plea bargaining.  Addison County State's Attorney John Quinn says he believes that could change if the state adopts a sentencing structure like Jessica's Law.

(Quinn) "We'll have more trials, we'll have more children being forced to testify in court, and we'll probably have more defendants walking away without any sanction, because the state's burden in any criminal case is to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and then there's always the threat that the child won't be able to testify at all, or the family doesn't want the child to testify, and we'll lose those cases."

(Ashworth) Washington County Prosecutor Tom Kelly hasn't taken a sex offender case to court in the last two years.  He says a measure like "Jessica's Law" could mean that prosecutors are forced to go to court, and file lesser charges from the outset. 

(Kelly) "Well, it would remove from the court the discretion on what the sentence could be, but it could make the prosecution more difficult, if a case won't go to trial at 10, but would at 25, and if it's a weak case the prosecutor might be looking for a different charge."

(Ashworth) Quinn agrees. He says "Jessica's Law" may be politically popular in more than 30 states, but in practice the law may not be used.

(Quinn) "I have not talked to prosecutors in other states, so I can't answer as to exactly what is going on in those states, but it would not surprise me to find that Jessica's Law is not being used very much, or that the cases are being amended from a Jessica's Law kind of sentence down to something else to come up with a reasonable resolution of the case."

(Ashworth) Windsor County State's Attorney Bobby Sand also has reservations. He proposes taking a DNA sample from anyone who is arrested. And he wants prosecutors to be able to introduce evidence of a defendant's prior sexual assaults. 

For VPR News, I'm Sarah Ashworth.



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