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Green Lauds Signing of “Jessica Lunsford Act” Toughening Penalties for Child Sex Abusers

Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D- Middlesex/Somerset/Union) lauded the ceremonial signing of legislation he sponsored to impose stiff mandatory prison time for anyone convicted of sexually abusing a young child, which brought together lawmakers and advocates in the state capital on Monday.

The new law (A-892) was 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.

“Under previous law, an individual who was convicted of abusing a child younger than 13 could face anywhere from 10 to 20 years in prison. This new law upgrades 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 law imposes mandatory terms of imprisonment for individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. Under the law, the individual will 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 law also allows for a negotiated reduction of the mandatory term under certain circumstances. Under the law, 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 law 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 previous 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 law takes effect immediately.