What is Jessica’s Law, and What Does it Mean for Texas Sexual Assault Cases?

Texas, like many other states, treats sex-related offenses differently from other types of violent crime, acknowledging that, while any kind of violent crime inflicts both physical and emotional pain on the victim, the effects of sexual assault are particularly severe and long-lasting, especially if the victim is young. Therefore, Texas requires people convicted of sex-related crimes to register on the sex offender registry for long periods of time, even for relatively minor sex crimes. In the most severe of sex crimes, those inflicted on child victims and resulting in substantial physical injury, the punishments are even harsher. In Texas, as in other states, the laws specifying harsher punishments for these particularly cruel sex crimes are called Jessica’s Laws, named after Jessica Lunsford, a Florida child whose abduction, rape, and murder formed the catalyst for this legislation.

The Murder of Jessica Lunsford

On February 24, 2005, John Couey abducted 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford from her home in rural central Florida. He kept her at his house for three days, where he repeatedly raped her before burying her alive. Couey was already a registered sex offender; his criminal record included several counts of sexual molestation of children, as well as other non-sexual crimes. In 2007, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, but he died of cancer in prison in 2009.

Jessica Lunsford’s death would still have been first-degree murder, even if it did not involve sexual battery. Because of the cruelty of so many aspects of the crime, from the kidnapping to the rape of a child, Florida enacted Jessica’s Law, specifying a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, plus lifelong probation, for any adult convicted of sexually abusing a child 12 years old or younger. Today, 42 states, including Texas, have their own versions of Jessica’s Law.

The Texas Version of Jessica’s Law

In 2007, Texas passed its own version of Jessica’s Law. The Texas law applies to continuous molestation of a child or children. In other words, it applies to situations where the perpetrator is an adult and the victim is 14 years old or younger. It covers a variety of sexual crimes, but the important criterion is that there were two or more counts of abuse over a period of 30 days or more. Its goal is to punish ongoing abusive sexual relationships more harshly than isolated incidents of sexual abuse. It enhances the penalty for many sexual crimes, such that some crimes that would be second-degree felonies were the victim older and the incident isolated, become first-degree felonies. Early drafts of the bill even sought the death penalty for certain sex offenses against children.

Contact Madrid Law About Sex-Related Offenses

Sexual offenses can carry very severe penalties, including long prison terms followed by lifetime registration on the sex offender registry. If you are accused of a sex crime, it is important to seek out experienced legal representation. Contact Madrid Law in Houston for a consultation.

What is Jessica’s Law, and What Does it Mean for Texas Sexual Assault Cases?
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