March 01, 2007
"Jessica's Law" tabled till Monday

The debate over HB8, the so-called "Jessica's Law", has been put off until Monday.

Lawmakers put the brakes on fast-moving legislation that would allow for death sentences for repeat child sex offenders Wednesday, as key Republicans crossed the aisle and asked for four more days to consider a measure on the books in only five other states.

Their decision came over the objections of Rep. Debbie Riddle, the Tomball Republican who filed the House's version of the "Jessica's Laws" that have been embraced elsewhere.

"I want those who prey on our children to serve their full sentences," Ms. Riddle said. "And I want those who would do it repeatedly to be removed from our society, either through life in prison or their own execution."

But in the 131-10 vote to delay the bill, her colleagues indicated they still aren't comfortable with the measure - saying they have legal and constitutional questions that they hope to have answered by Monday.

"The last thing I want to do is kill this bill," said Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. But "we're talking about people, some of whom may be innocent, being exposed to execution by all of this. We've got to be very careful about what we're doing.

The main concern was over the constitutionality of the death penalty for crimes other than murder. I'll save myself a bunch of typing and point you to the many fine analyses of what happened yesterday:

The Observer
Vince and Vince again - you want liveblogging, he's your man.
Grits and Grits again, on how HB8 should be amended.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 01, 2007 to That's our Lege

Those sorts of cases are difficult ones for a death penalty.

There's usually a lot of reasonable doubt in child sex offense cases.

Very testimony based, sometimes a delayed outcry, young witnesses and usually not much conclusory physical evidence. They get brought to trial despite these doubts because of the seriousness of the offense.

It is hard to get a fair jury for a defendant in these sorts of cases because you are asking the jury to commit something that is required by the American system of justice but is totally nuts: that even if you think a preponderance of the evidence shows that the accused is a child sex abuser, you have to find him not guilty if you have a reasonable doubt.

Lots of unintended consequences from changes in sentencing.

The flipside is that I guess DAs won't have to worry about DNA exoneration because most of the time DNA has nothing to do with these cases--it's just believability of testimony and circumstantial evidence.

Posted by: Stephanie on March 2, 2007 9:11 PM