Sex crime law's effects worry some

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The tough-on-sex-crimes legislation that demands long, mandatory minimum prison sentences for offenders might be having unintended consequences for victims.

With fewer people pleading guilty, more victims might have to testify at trial.

Anyone accused of committing several types of sexual assault after July 1, 2006, faces mandatory minimum sentences with no possibility of parole.

For example, convictions for rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation require a sentence of 25 years to life. If the convicted sex offender is released from prison, he must spend the rest of his life on probation and on the sexual offender registry.

For a conviction of enticing a child for indecent purposes, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years.

"When your back is up against the wall and you're looking at going to prison for a long time ... more people are going to roll the dice" and go to trial, said attorney Scott Connell, who prosecuted criminal cases for 51/2 years before entering private practice nearly six years ago.

Mandatory minimum sentences take away any incentive for a defendant to plead guilty, Augusta Judicial Circuit public defender Sam B. Sibley Jr. said. A drop in guilty pleas also adds to the backlog of pending cases, Mr. Connell said.

In the first 10 months of 2006, 52 percent of sexual assault cases were closed. So far this year, only 34 percent have been closed.

That means more victims have to testify, said attorney Willie Saunders, who is in private practice now after eight years in the prosecutor's office.

"It's rough enough to put an adult on the stand in front of strangers to talk about unwanted and illegal sexual acts," Mr. Saunders said. "It's even worse when it's a child."

This month in Richmond County Superior Court, two sisters ages 6 and 7 had to face cross-examination in Mitchell Holmes' child molestation trial.

Though the jury had watched a videotaped questioning of each girl that was conducted by a trained counselor, the law since 2004 requires victims to be made available for cross-examination.

Mr. Homes, 56, was convicted.

District Attorney Ashley Wright said the numbers aren't available yet to make a definitive analysis of the sexual offense cases. It's logical to think that fewer people are pleading guilty, she said.

Sexual assault crimes have always been difficult for people to admit to, Ms. Wright said. Before a judge will accept a guilty plea, there must be an admission of guilt.

It's tough for victims to testify, but it can also empower them to confront their abusers, Ms. Wright said.

The General Assembly increased the penalties for sex crimes in 2006 on the heels of the Jessica Lunsford case. Registered sex offender John Couey, who was captured in Augusta, was convicted of raping and murdering the 9-year-old Florida girl. He was sentenced to death last year.

Georgia lawmakers set mandatory minimum prison sentences for all sex crimes except those involving consenting teenagers who are close in age.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

52 - Percent of cases closed in the first 10 months of 2006


34 - Percent of cases closed in the first 10 months of 2008




According to Richmond County Superior Court Clerk's records of sexual assault crimes:


January to Oct. 20, 2006: 54 of 112 cases were still open.


January to Oct. 20, 2008: 65 of 99 cases are still open.

Source: Richmond County Superior Court Clerk records

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patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 10/22/08 - 05:31 am
0
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The other option is to lower

The other option is to lower the sentence to get a guilty plea, which means the perp is back on the street sooner. Most sexual predator cases should carry the organ harvest sentence.

I4PUTT
5
Points
I4PUTT 10/22/08 - 06:10 am
0
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No pun intended!

No pun intended!

mike jones
0
Points
mike jones 10/22/08 - 08:03 am
0
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Can someone tell me if

Can someone tell me if registry sex offender can go to high school games? Because some say yes and some say no

kai@reasontostand.org
1
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kai@reasontostand.org 10/22/08 - 08:09 am
0
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If a victim is unwilling to

If a victim is unwilling to testify then the accused should go free. Child or adult, there should be NO exceptions, especially from the flimsy excuse of "emotional trauma" the testimony might cause. If the testimony is true, the trauma was the act itself and not their recounting of it. Also, why do we care if these new sentencing guides will cause more cases to go to trial? What is more important, closing cases or seeing justice done?

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 10/22/08 - 08:22 am
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That is a point of view kai.

That is a point of view kai. I guess you've never been involved or known anyone that's been involved with a sex crime.

oneconservativetoanother
5
Points
oneconservativetoanother 10/22/08 - 09:10 am
0
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A law that doesn't give

A law that doesn't give justice to all is an injustice to the innocent. The GA law was created (mostley by Judge Craig) as a mass fish net to all sex crimes that would devistate those convicted for the rest of their lives. Local city councils can decide where they can live and work. Now, a "predator" should not be among us but there is no difference between two teens in the back seat and the school administrator taking advantage of kids on campus? There has to be levels of this offender list or it will never work. It is unconstitutional and will be challenged in court. Law enforcement slaps this label on and there is no where in society for these folks to live. What do you want to do - ship them out to another country? Oh, I get it, just not in your backyard...

SargentMidTown
8
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SargentMidTown 10/22/08 - 11:41 am
0
0
Men born to mothers who get

Men born to mothers who get welfare commit a statically higher number of sex crimes. Women are squeezing out "love child's" today at alarming rates. They many times do this to receive public welfare/section 8 support. Give these women incentives to limit their amount of offspring. Encourage Georgia lawmakers to enact a law that will pay welfare mothers to get their tubes tied. Keep abortion legal. "good were it for that man if he had never been born." ---Mark 14:21

Chuchi
2
Points
Chuchi 10/22/08 - 12:38 pm
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SargentMidTown, I'm pretty

SargentMidTown, I'm pretty sure that Jesus didn't say "better for that man to have been torn apart with a scapel and a suction machine, then have his head crushed in his mother's womb via abortion, rather than being born." They didn't have suction machines back then, but they had knives and other specialized, if very primitive, equipment for the purpose of illegal abortions in Biblical times. Jesus was speaking specifically of Judas Iscariot and not anyone else. It would have been better for the state of Judas' soul if he had never been born, which would not have been his fault, than the alternative which Judas chose (suicide) which was his fault. I don't believe I've ever heard anyone use that particular verse as a justification for legalized abortion. It seems incredible to me that someone would actually interpret Christ's words to justify the killing of babies conceived by poor women. I could just as easily interpret your words to mean that you believe poor children don't deserve a chance to live.

mable8
2
Points
mable8 10/22/08 - 02:27 pm
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It would seem that when a

It would seem that when a child is interviewed and the testimony is played via video in the court room, the defense attorney could have done a cross examination at the initial interview. That way, the child would not have to make an appearance in court and be revictimized. As for the adult victims, it is a sad commentary that they are also revictimized and even said to be responsible for the predatory acts of the perpetrator. The registsry for sex offenders will never work unless there are different levels reflected on that list. Categorizing the lesser sex offenders as one who is in the same class as the true predator is just wrong. No one is saying sex offenses are acceptable by any means, but there are the different categories. Also, for those who would bring false charges against another the penalty should be a minimum of 10 years without parole--perhaps the sex offender laws should look at both sides of the coin in order to make the laws more effective.

enana03
0
Points
enana03 10/22/08 - 09:38 pm
0
0
Have a heart, just stop and

Have a heart, just stop and think and you will realize just how traumatic it would be on a child who has been the victim of a sexual predator to have to face that person in open court and tell everyone what was happened to him or her. I would never want my child to be put though that kind of terror and stress nor would I want anyone else's child to be. I say tape an interview in a room away from the court and play the video in court. The goal should be to keep the innocent victim as protected as possible.

GGpap
491
Points
GGpap 10/23/08 - 01:10 am
0
0
Do we really want more

Do we really want more medieval laws to satisfy the biblical puritans in today's society? Why not life imprisonment for someone saying "damn" in the presence of children? I'm for punishment fitting the crime, not for hanging someone because his/her crimes offend the puritanical beliefs of some. Justice should be just that, justice…not hateful mindlessness!

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