Monday, 2 April 2007

Death Penalty in Jessica's Law Would Be a Mistake

Death Penalty in Jessica's Law Would Be a Mistake

That's the message in an editorial in today's San Antonio Express-News. LINK

Given some of the heinous crimes committed against children — such as the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida — it's understandable that Texas lawmakers would stiffen punishment, restrict parole and enhance supervision of child sex offenders.

Recognizing the powerful emotions reprehensible crimes against children elicit, the gut reaction to put child sex offenders to death is understandable. But as a matter of public policy, it would be a mistake.

Five states have death penalty provisions for individuals who repeat sex crimes against children. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in the United States in 1976, however, no one has been put to death for a crime that did not involve the taking of another life.

Only one person, in Louisiana, has been sentenced to death for sex crimes against children. That case is on appeal. It would be wise for Texas to watch that case wind through the legal system before putting a law on the books.

Meanwhile, there's plenty the Legislature can do that passes constitutional muster to protect children, punish child sex offenders and keep them off the streets. Until the Louisiana case is resolved, lawmakers should leave the emotional debate about a death penalty provision for another day.

The House has passed HB 8, a version of Jessica's Law with a death penalty. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has passed SB 5 and SB 78, one with and the other without a death penalty. The full Senate has yet to consider any of the bills.

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