ST. PAUL — Three sexual assault survivors told Minnesota legislators that current criminal sentencing procedures endanger children.
They testified at a House public safety committee meeting Tuesday, March 7 in favor of a bill that would:
• Eliminate some plea agreements that let sex offenders avoid prison.
• Mandate minimum sentences for child pornography.
• Require that some sex offenders remain under supervision for life, even after they get out of jail or prison.
"The next time another child is abducted, the police can't find them because the predators are invisible," she said. "We have to put barriers between these criminals and the children and victims."
Under some plea deals, the defendant admits guilt and is issued probation instead of jail time.
Now, if the offender meets the probation terms, felony convictions could be reduced to misdemeanors and a record of the offense would not be available on the state's online database.
Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, said he authored the bill in response to "disturbing" reports of offenders who assaulted more victims after dodging lock-up.
"Nobody in this room today advocates child pornography, child exploitation, but something is definitely wrong with our statute, with our system where stays of adjudication for such crimes are being allowed," he said.
Along with changing sentencing procedures, Grossell's bill would reframe how the state monitors offenders following their sentences.
Offenders would be subject to lifetime probation, which would include intensified measures like electronic surveillance, unannounced searches, treatment, house arrest and full-time work requirements.
Elizabeth Sullivan, who directs the support group EmpowerSurvivors Minnesota, said she believes offenders have rights and need help.
But some, she said, will never be able to control their "taste" for children.
"That is who they prefer; they want a child," she said. "They're easy to manipulate, and it's easy to groom them."
The bill also would establish mandatory minimum sentences.
People convicted of possessing child pornography would be required to serve a minimum of six months in jail. Repeat offenses or porn possession by registered offenders would carry a minimum one-year sentence.
Maximum penalties related to child pornography also would increase.
A conviction of possessing child pornography could carry a sentence of up to seven years for the first offense, and 15 years for the second offense for those committed by registered offenders.
Distributing child pornography could land a convicted person up to 10 years in prison for a first offense, rather than the current seven, and 20 years for the second offense, rather than 15.
For Judy Rangel, who suffered sexual abuse as a child, the bill represents the first steps in revamping "horrific" state laws she says discourage victims from coming forward.
"Most cases are not brought to court; most people are loathe to talk about being molested," she said. "By our silence, perpetrators continue to molest people."
Since the changes would increase prison and public defender costs, it may be folded into a public safety finance bill in the coming weeks.