Assembly Passes “Jessica Lunsford Act”

TRENTON – The Assembly on Thursday approved legislation that would impose a mandatory prison time of 25 years to life for those convicted of sexually abusing children under the age of 13.

The bill is modeled after Florida’s “Jessica Lunsford Act,” named after a nine-year-old Florida resident who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a registered sex offender in 2005.

“Right now, an individual convicted of abusing a child younger than 13 could face anywhere from 10 to 20 years in prison. This bill would upgrade the punishment to a mandatory 25 years before parole could even be considered. Given the heinous nature of the crime, they deserve nothing less,” said Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union), a sponsor of the bill.

“Robbing our youth of their innocence has a tremendous impact on their physical, psychological and emotional state, and takes a toll on their families and loved ones as well,” said Assemblywoman Nancy F. Muñoz (R-Union/Morris/Somerset), another sponsor of the bill. “This kind of larceny must result in severe punishment that sends a message of how much we value young people and that such detestable actions will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”

The bill (A-2027) would impose mandatory terms of imprisonment for individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13. Under the bill, the individual would be sentenced to a specific term of years fixed by the court. The term would be between 25 years and life imprisonment. The person shall serve 25 years before being eligible for parole. However, if there is a longer term of parole ineligibility provided by law, the person would be sentenced to the longer term.

The bill would allow for a negotiated reduction of the mandatory term under certain circumstances. Under the bill, the prosecutor, in consideration of the interests of the victim, can offer a negotiated plea agreement in which the defendant would be sentenced to a specific term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole. The court may accept the negotiated plea agreement and impose the term of imprisonment and period of parole ineligibility as provided for in the plea agreement. The court may not impose a lesser term of imprisonment or parole or a lesser period of parole ineligibility than that expressly provided in the plea agreement. The bill requires the Attorney General to develop guidelines to ensure discretion when determining a negotiated reduction in the term of imprisonment and period of parole ineligibility.

Under current law, aggravated sexual assault is a crime of the first degree, if the perpetrator commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim under the age of 13. A crime of the first degree is ordinarily punishable by a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, a fine of up to $200,000 or both.

The bill would take effect immediately.

The bill was approved 77-0 by the Assembly and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.

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