Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Jessica's Law" Under Fire in Massachusetts

This is a distinctly un-apathetic in this post.

"Jessica's Law" is named after a Florida girl who was kidnapped and buried alive, with a stuffed animal, in a trash bag, by a sex offender. She died before help arrived. State after state has made "Jessica's Law" their own.

Some seem to have a harder time accepting it than others.

I can see why. "Jessica's Law" is quite harsh, by some standards. For example, it would require a 20-year sentence for the rape of a child under age 12: with no wiggle room for a compassionate judge.

Massachusetts State Representative James Fagan is doing his best to protect his constituents from what he sees as a harsh, draconian law. When he's not protecting Massachusetts citizens in the state capital, he's a defense attorney.

Here's what he's promised to do, if any of those alleged kid victims try to hurt his clients: "I'm gonna rip them apart," he said. "I'm going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined, that when they're 8 years old, they throw up; when they're 12 years old, they won’t sleep; when they’re 19 years old, they'll have nightmares and they'll never have a relationship with anybody."

The Boston Herald's article on Massachusetts' Solons was much too proper and polite to print Representative Fagan's passionate words. Another Boston news service wasn't quite so inhibited, and aired a video of the worthy representative's statement:

video 1:29

The video is also available on the news service's website, with additional written content: "Outrage Over Rep. James Fagan's Comments" (myFOX Boston (June 17, 2008).

I have a great deal of respect for the efforts of those who set up America's legal system. As what happened to the Duke lacrosse team showed, it's vital to have protection for the accused in a criminal case.

On the other hand, I think that there should be serious sanctions against people who have kidnapped a little girl, raped her, and buried her alive in a trash bag. Even if she did live in a trailer.

I'm with Jessica's dad on this one. "Why doesn't he figure out a way to defend that child and put these kind of people away instead of trying to figure ways for defense attorneys to get around Jessica's Law?" Mark Lunsford fumed, slamming recent remarks by Rep. James Fagan. "These are very serious crimes that nobody wants to take serious. What about the rights of these children?" ("Jessica’s Law dad blasts Mass. rep" Boston Herald (June 24, 2008))

"Blasts," "fumed:" Is it just me, or is the Boston Herald portraying Mark Lunsford as an overly-emotional fellow. It's clear that Mr. Lunsford isn't the best-educated person around, as evidenced by the grammar in his statement, "...that nobody wants to take serious."

The article quoted Fagan's pithy comment on Jessica's Law: It's "knee-jerk" legislation and said "every time the Legislature has named a law after somebody, it has been a failure."

To the Herald's credit, the article also cited some opposing views.

So far, 33 states have enacted some form of Jessica's Law. My home state of Minnesota isn't one of them, and somehow I suspect that the state of Massachusetts may not be one, either: at least, not for a long time.

There's more about Jessica Lunsford's legacy at the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation.

I should warn you, though, that the Foundation has some rather definite views. They're pushing federal legislation that should suppress the rape and murder of children in America. I've indulged myself, by putting the main points of the proposed legislation first in the way I think it will be attacked, and then more reasonably.

Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. In brief this legislation will:
  • Invade the privacy of American citizens
    • Create a national public sex offender registry
      • Giving the public better and more uniform information about sex offenders
      • Letting all communities benefit from the same kind of information
      • Requiring states to list all, not just some, sex offenders on their web site registries
  • Impose draconian limits on judicial decisions
    • Give consistent sex offender requirements in all states
      • Stopping sex offenders from choosing from a diverse selection of state requirements to avoid registering
      • Requiring that sex offenders be registered before they are released from prison or three days after a sentence of probation
        (what a concept!)
  • Subject former sex offenders to harsh restrictions
    • Make failure to comply with registration duties a state and federal felony
      • Improving the law enforcement's ability to track sex offenders when they move
      • Reducing the number of "missing" sex offenders in the system
      • Requiring sex offenders to verify registration in person to law enforcement rather than by mail
        (Scary, isn't it?)
  • Establish a Big Brother network
    • Change the way law enforcement handles missing child reports
      • Establishing that reports must be entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center within 2 hours
        (Remember: this is the Information Age)
      • Prohibiting the removal of missing child reports when the child turns age 18 and is still missing
  • Criminalize free speech and expression
    • Make it harder to run online kiddie porn services, and reduce the amount of online child abuse
      • Increasing the number of Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces across the nation
I hope that state legislators will give Jessica's Law and its variants due consideration, molding it to their state's needs.

As for the federal legislation, I certainly don't want a "knee jerk" reaction: one way or the other. Each of the points should be carefully considered. There are real concerns, as well as the all-too-familiar fears, about tracking American citizens, imposing limits on individual action, and attempts to control free expression.

On the other hand, children have been raped and murdered who would be alive today, if more attention was being paid to protecting non-rapists, and a little less to maintaining the freedom of repeat offenders.
More, at:
Update (June 27, 2008)

CNN noticed Rep. Fagan's remarks, and put together a video:


Brigid said...

How about a subcutaneous GPS implant that would allow the authorities to track where these perverts go at all times?

I doubt it'd get much support, but it would solve a lot of problems.

(I can't believe the expletive deleted Mr. Fagan said those things! Is he trying to make himself a national target?)

Brian H. Gill said...


As you know, I think that there's a case to be made for everyone to have a transceiver implanted. Missing persons and kidnappings would be much easier to solve.

I also think it won't happen in my lifetime, or that of my not-yet-born grandchildren.

As for Rep. Fagan: I can't understand why he made those remarks. It was in a public venue, where he was speaking in his capacity as an elected representative. He must have realized that he would be noticed, recognized, and probably recorded.

Even Massachusetts's citizenry doesn't seem to generally support his rather "over the top" views.

What he hopes to gain by promising to ruin the lives of children who testify against his clients, I don't know.

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