Jessica Lunsford Act clears Senate committee

TRENTON – A Senate panel unanimously released two bills revising the state’s sentencing standards of certain sex offenders and people who harbor them.

The legislation, dubbed the Jessica Lunsford Act, calls for mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years to life of certain sex offenders and requires electronic monitoring for sex offenders who prey on minors if the offender has been released on bail or from incarceration.

The bills, S380 and S642, would also create child protection zones.

The bi-partisan supported legislation cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee following little discussion.

Terry Peifer, founder and CEO of Families Advocating Intelligent Reform, spoke against the legislation, saying the “one size fits all” mentality isn’t appropriate.

“The inflexible … laws are popular with state legislators and some of the general public who are unaware of the real facts,” she said. “I believe this Legislature … is not looking for quick fix solutions that are ineffective and enormously costly to the taxpayers.”

The legislation has the backing of the New Jersey Family First and the League of American Families.

The bill also requires lifetime tracking of such offenders upon their release from incarceration.

A person who fails to comply with the requirements of the electronic monitoring system would be guilty of a third-degree crime, and could go to prison for three to five years, be fined as much as $15,000, or both.

This bill also imposes increased penalties on persons who commit sex crimes against minors. 

Under the bill, a person convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a minor under the age of 18 or the new crime of first-degree sexual assault of a minor under the age of 18 would be sentenced to a specific term of years fixed by the court which would be between 25 years and life imprisonment, of which the person must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole.

Currently, a person who commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim under age 13 is guilty of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, a fine of up to $200,000, or both. A person who commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who is between ages 13 and 15 under certain specified circumstances is also guilty of a first-degree crime.  A person who commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who is at least age 16 but less than 18 under certain circumstances is guilty of sexual assault, a crime of the second degree (punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both).

In the bills released today by the Senate committee, all of these acts would be punishable as first-degree crimes, with terms of imprisonment of 25 years to life.

The bill also increases the penalties for harboring or concealing a sex offender.  Under the bill, a violation of hindering apprehension or prosecution would be considered a third-degree crime with a mandatory minimum term of two years without eligibility for parole if the person harbored or concealed a person who has been convicted, adjudicated delinquent or found not guilty by reason of insanity for the commission of a sex offense.

Jessica Lunsford Act clears Senate committee