A new Utah law that mandates a life prison sentence for a criminal's second sexual offense against a child is being revisited to add more "middle ground" plea options, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, told the Utah Sentencing Commission Wednesday.
The bill addresses public clamor for a Utah version of Jessica's Law, a 2005 Florida law that gives first offenders a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, but would add an "attempted" category to existing designations of criminal sexual offenses against children and add a fifteen-year minimum mandatory sentences.
That addition would give prosecutors new plea-bargaining leverage in cases, for instance, without hard evidence or where a youthful witness might have to testify if the case went to trial. "The problem nationwide is people plead (a felony charge) down (to a misdemeanor) but there is nothing in the middle," Wimmer said, adding that his revision of HB86, which passed in the Legislature earlier this year, "offers every option possible while satisfying the public outcry for a Jessica's Law."
Responding to a question from the commission, Wimmer said victims' advocates agree with the concept of the bill even though they are not thrilled with the idea of an offender being able to plead down an offense to something "attempted."
"It sounds soft to the victim, but it also sounds soft to the suspect," Wimmer said, with the accused more likely to choose mandatory prison time in a plea bargain in a case that otherwise might be difficult for prosecutors to win.
Wimmer said he has been working on the bill with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and plans to reveal details of the proposal in a press conference with the governor. The governor's office said Wednesday they have been working with Wimmer on a bill but do not yet have an announcement scheduled.Jessica's Law, also known as the Jessica Lunsford Act in the federal criminal arena, is named for Jessica Lunsford, who was raped and murdered in 2005 by a previously-convicted sex offender.