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Lawmakers hear one-sided testimony in support of new bills

Florida lawmakers recently filed a package of proposed laws that will tighten the penalties for convicted sex offenders -- both during their incarceration and after their release.

The laws are the result of a series of hearings held in both the state House and Senate. Lawmakers heard testimony from police, victims’ advocates and mental health professionals. The end result is a proposal to lengthen prison sentences, allow for stricter community monitoring and enlarge the types of offenses for which post-incarceration confinement can be imposed.

Notably absent from the hearings was any viewpoint on behalf of the sex offenders, whether from a representative or perhaps a sex crimes defense attorney. That viewpoint might have resulted in a more balanced critique of the state’s approach to sex crimes.

For example, lawmakers learned that nearly 600 convicted sex offenders had committed new sex offenses after their release. Yet the fact remains that the rate of recidivism among sex offenders is lower than many other types of criminal offenders. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, robbers have the highest repeat offense rate, followed by several other potentially violent crimes including burglary, larceny, and possessing, using or selling illegal weapons.

What’s especially disheartening about the new legislation is that ignores the possibility of treatment and rehabilitation. In fact, it may even assume that treatment may be impossible, as evidenced by its focus on community monitoring and confinement of an individual even after his or her criminal sentence has ended. For anyone facing charges of sexual assault or another type of sex crime, perhaps the best defense may include proactive negotiations with prosecutors. Treatment and alternative sentencing options may not be on the bargaining table unless an assertive defense attorney fights for them. 

Source: Sun Sentinel, “Lawmakers file sex predator legislation,” Dana Williams and Sally Kestin, Dec. 17, 2013

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