Unfortunately, it took a tragic event for a law to be passed to help protect children across the U.S. The death of Jessica Lunsford in 2005 resulted in a Florida law called Jessica’s Law, which mandates a strict sentence for first-time child sex offenders. Many states have since followed suit, introducing their own version of this law.
What is Jessica’s Law?
Called the Jessica Lunsford Act, or informally known as Jessica’s Law, this Florida law was passed in 2005 to better protect children against sexual offenders. It mandates a 25-year minimum sentence and up to life in prison for first-time child sex offenders. It also requires lifetime electronic monitoring for adult sex offenders who have been convicted of lascivious and lewd acts against a child under 12 years old. Offenders must be given lifetime probation after imprisonment.
The law was passed after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was abducted and killed by career criminal John Couey, who was found guilty of kidnapping, capital sexual battery and first-degree murder but died before he could serve his sentence.
After this tragedy, Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, campaigned for new legislation to increase regulations to track sexual offenders who have been released. Since Jessica’s Law passed in Florida, other states have also incorporated their own version of the law—the proposed Jessica Lunsford Act of 2005. The law was introduced at the federal level in 2005, but Congress hasn’t passed it.
What states have Jessica’s Law?
Although federal lawmakers never passed Jessica’s Law, many states have enacted sex offender laws named after Jessica.
“These laws have different contours, which include harsher sentences,
including mandatory minimums, prohibitions on parole or probation, and tougher post-release supervision, including through GPS devices,” said Nora V. Demleitner, a law professor at Washington and Lee University near Washington, D.C.
For example, states such as California, Kansas, Oregon and Texas have passed laws modeled after Florida’s Jessica’s Law. All states impose lengthy sentences for child sex offenders, who must register upon release. Many of these laws have passed before and after 2005, but Florida still has the most punitive law when it comes to lifelong GPS monitoring for many sex offenders.
The only states that haven’t passed a version of Jessica’s Law (or have stiffer punishments for sex offenders) are Idaho, Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii and Vermont.
Although Jessica’s Law mandates tougher child predator laws in certain states, it doesn’t necessarily safeguard children from being in the presence of predators.
But you can still take steps to better protect your children. In some states—for example, in California—known predators aren’t allowed to live within a certain distance of parks, schools and child care centers. You can also search your neighborhood or property to check if there might be sex offenders in your vicinity.
While it’s not healthy to be paranoid about your surroundings, Jessica’s Law has taught us that we need to be vigilant about protecting our youngest citizens—and that starts with us.