Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson Gives Her "Little Dog" Report From The State Capitol

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jessica's Law: Protecting Children?

The Texas House recently approved H.B. 8 or "Jessica’s Law," which would make the death penalty a possible punishment for repeat sexual predators who commit offenses against children under 14. The proposed legislation, H.B. 8, passed through the House with a strong majority despite glaring flaws in its approach to a very serious problem.
I voted against H.B. 8 because of its reckless and likely unconstitutional expansion of the death penalty. Given recent Supreme Court decisions that have limited the use of the death penalty, this law would not likely past the test of constitutionality. Moreover, recent studies have opened all of our eyes to the grave consequences of our imperfect usage of the death penalty. Given the amount of people who have been exonerated after being placed on death row and the amount of people who have actually been put to death in Texas, I have little doubt that innocent people have died at the hands of our state.
Also at the heart of the matter is the fact that H.B. 8 will not likely deter child predators from threatening the wellbeing of our children. In some cases, the law may create an incentive for sex offenders to murder their victims instead of letting them go. This is because H.B. 8 allows for the death penalty to be used against sex offenders who do not kill their victim. Since the victim is often the only witness to the crime, a sex offender could plausibly better his chances of not getting caught by killing his victim. This horrible scenario is created by this bad piece of legislation.
Another problem with punishing sex offenders with death is the likelihood that the knowledge of such a penalty would deter victims of child sex crimes from stepping forward and reporting their abusers. It is disturbing but true that a great percentage of child sexual abuse happens inside the family. Knowing that reporting a family member could lead to that relative's execution creates reason for victims to keep their abuse hidden from law enforcement.
We can keep our children safe from child predators. But, while effective punishments for sex offenders is part of the solution, H.B. 8 fails to approach the problem in a manner that would best protect our children and serve justice in Texas.