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Jessica's Law increases prison time for sex offenses against kids

Sexual offenses often carry significant potential penalties that may go far beyond prison time and fines. Registration requirements that follow a criminal conviction for many sex crimes can have significant impact for years to come. But, New Jersey lawmakers recently focused on lengthening the prison sentence in cases involving allegations of sexual assaults against children under the age of 13.

New Jersey has joined 45 other states to pass a law aimed at sexual assault charges involving alleged pre-teen victims. The law, known in New Jersey as the Jessica Lunsford Act, was recently signed by Gov. Chris Christie. The law reduces the discretion of judges in imposing sentences and also significantly extends the time in prison for which a person will be sentenced upon a conviction of sexual assault of a child under the age of 13.

Prior to passage of Jessica’s law, New Jersey law contemplated that offenders would spend 10 to 20 years behind bars. The new law now makes a conviction for aggravated assault of a child a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. There is one exception to the 25-year minimum that is left within the discretion of prosecutors.

If authorities believe that it is beneficial for the victim, prosecutors may enter into a plea agreement with the criminal defense to reduce the minimum to 15 years. The nuance allowing for a shorter sentence may come into play for a variety of reasons, including when prosecutors feel that it would be in the best interests of the alleged victim to not have to take the stand to testify in court.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Christie champions law toughening penalties against sex offenders who assault children,” Brent Johnson, June 2, 2014; CBS Philly, "New Jersey Gov. Christie Signs Sex Offender Bill Into Law,” The Associated Press, June 2, 2014

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