(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D- Middlesex/Somerset/Union) to impose a mandatory prison time of 25 years to life for those convicted of sexually abusing children under the age of 13 received final legislative approval on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill is modeled after Florida’s “Jessica Lunsford Act,” named after a nine-year-old Florida resident who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a registered sex offender in 2005.
“The fate that these children endured is an affront to human decency. The trauma of sexual abuse does not end when the abuse stops or when the victim grows up. This type of abuse leaves wounds that follow victims into adulthood that many are unable to recover from,” said Green.
“Right now, an individual who is convicted of abusing a child younger than 13 could face anywhere from 10 to 20 years in prison. This bill would upgrade the punishment to a mandatory 25 years before parole could even be considered. No one deserves this, never mind a defenseless child. A person who is capable of such an atrocious crime deserves nothing less,” added Green.
The bill (A-892) would impose mandatory terms of imprisonment for individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. Under the bill, the individual would be sentenced to a specific term of years fixed by the court. The term would be between 25 years and life imprisonment. The person shall serve 25 years before being eligible for parole. However, if there is a longer term of parole ineligibility provided by law, the person would be sentenced to the longer term.
The bill would allow for a negotiated reduction of the mandatory term under certain circumstances. Under the bill, the prosecutor, in consideration of the interests of the victim, can offer a negotiated plea agreement in which the defendant would be sentenced to a specific term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years, during which the defendant would be ineligible for parole.
The court may accept the negotiated plea agreement and impose the term of imprisonment and period of parole ineligibility as provided for in the plea agreement. The court may not impose a lesser term of imprisonment or parole or a lesser period of parole ineligibility than that expressly provided in the plea agreement. The bill requires the Attorney General to develop guidelines to ensure discretion when determining a negotiated reduction in the term of imprisonment and period of parole ineligibility.
Under current law, aggravated sexual assault is a crime of the first degree, if the perpetrator commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim under the age of 13. A crime of the first degree is ordinarily punishable by a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, a fine of up to $200,000 or both.
The bill would take effect immediately.
The bill was approved 34-0 by the Senate on Thursday, and 77-0 by the Assembly last week.