19 August 2005

Sentencing and Sex Offenses

A couple days back Tom and Professor Berman went back and forth about how sex crimes against minors should be treated. Then yesterday I get an email telling me that Bob McDonnell, Chairman of the House of Delegates' Courts of Justice Committee and candidate for Virginia Attorney General, has proposed a mandatory 25 year term for those convicted of "committing major sex offenses against children under the age of 13" (which would include about everything).

It's a simplistic solution. Nuke 'em all, and if any are standing afterward, shoot 'em as they glow in the dark. Of course, that's the curse of politics. Simple solutions have to be offered out front and the actual complexities of the law can be worked out in the General Assembly later.

I suspect that Professor Berman is right that there is a core of people who should never see the light of day again, but that a large number, if not the majority, of offenders are single time offenders. That does not mean that these folks shouldn't get a significant penalty but in a number of cases 25 years is overkill. What I would prefer to see would be something like this: Every offense carries a mandatory sentence of life with all but up to 25 years suspended. Give judges room to work with so they can separate a drunk 18 year old who goes to bed with someone he thinks is 16-17 from someone who purposefully does something evil to a 2 year old. However, make it so that the judge can only give up to 5 years of the sentence to the defendant in any subsequent show cause unless it was based upon a sexual offense against a minor - in which case it would be presumptive that the entire sentence be imposed.

Monitoring makes sense (though I must admit that the electronic anklet is going to be expensive and quite possibly unworkable); however, I would probably like to see it removable by petition to the Court after perhaps 10 years without any intervening conviction.

I think it's workable and has enough play in the joints to allow just results. Thoughts?

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