What Is Jessica’s Law In Utah?

The state of Utah has ultimate jurisdiction on criminal law that takes place within its borders. This means that criminal cases in surrounding states — like Colorado and Nevada — don’t usually have anything to do with what happens in the Beehive State and vice versa.

However, sometimes a law is passed in one state that has a ripple effect across the nation. This happened in the mid-to-late 2000’s with Jessica’s Law, which gives severe punishment to people who are convicted of sexual crimes against children. 

The law was first passed in Florida by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005, and has since been adopted by most states including Utah.

The Story Behind Jessica’s Law

In February 2005, nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped from her home in Homosassa, Florida. The man who was convicted for this kidnapping was a registered sex offender named John Couey. He was found guilty for abducting her, raping her, and killing her.

If the narrative by authorities is true, her murder was especially heinous. It was alleged that Couey was afraid the police dogs would find her. He lied to her that he was taking her home, but he didn’t want her to be seen. So she climbed into a trash bag, and then he put another trash bag over her head.

Instead of taking her home, Couey put her into a hole and shoveled dirt over her. She died a slow death as her oxygen ran out.

Couey was sentenced to death, but he passed away due to natural causes before he could ever face his consequence by the state.

The story of Jessica Lunsford led to a public outcry, calling for more protections for children in the state. That is why Jessica’s Law was passed years before it was sentenced.

What Jessica’s Law Did In Florida

In Florida, Jessica’s Law did a few things:

  • Required people with the designation sexual predator to continuously be registered as such for their entire lives. According to Florida Law Enforcement, these are people who were “convicted of a sexually violent offense.”
  • Ensured that anyone working at a school as a contractor met a higher standard in their background check.
  • Set a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for people over 18 who commit lewd or lascivious molestation on minors under the age of 16. 

How Jessica’s Law In Utah Differs From Florida

In Utah, Jessica’s Law was passed in March 2008. It was put into effect in May of that same year.

The law in Utah was a little more simple than it was in Florida. It didn’t have any additional provisions about registering sex offenders, nor did it say anything about background checks. The Beehive State chose instead to concentrate on increasing penalties for people who are convicted of committing sexual offenses against minors.

Specifically, the law created a minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison for the crimes of rape, object rape, and sodomy of a minor under 14. For either attempted or criminal solicitation to do those things, the mandatory minimum sentence was set to 15 years in prison.

Case Study: An Advantage to Jessica’s Law in Utah

Not only does Jessica’s Law create harsher sentencing for sexual offenses, it can potentially keep children from having to testify in court. 

Shortly after the law was enacted in Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on a criminal case that had to do with it. A Syracuse man was originally charged with rape of a child and sexual exploitation of a minor. If he were convicted of those charges, he would get at least 25 years in prison.

However, he made a plea bargain with the state. Instead of rape of a child, he plead guilty to attempted rape of a child. That dropped his minimum sentence from 25 years to 15 years. 

Now, you might hear about this case and think it’s a loss for the victim and her family. But it’s actually a win-win situation for both the defendant and the victim.

Before Jessica’s Law, that charge of attempted rape of a child would have only carried three years to life in prison. A plea deal may not have even been on the table. 

Because the minimum sentencing was harsher, it gave the defendant the opportunity to opt for the lesser charge, and the victim was relieved of having to testify at trial.

What To Do If You Are Accused of Committing Sexual Offenses

Being charged with sexual offenses usually means you have a rough road ahead of you. Don’t make it more difficult by incriminating yourself with authorities. They don’t have your best interest at heart.

Instead, get yourself a lawyer. You’re going to need someone in your corner who is knowledgeable about the law and knows how to help you. Whether you committed the crime or not, an experienced attorney will work hard on your behalf to get the best outcome possible.

At Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, we have four attorneys who specialize in defending sex crimes: Kristin Wilson, Michael Holje, Staci Visser, and Ann Taliaferro. They are very competent lawyers, and they would love to help you out.

Get in touch with one of our criminal defense attorneys. Call (801) 532-5297 for a free consultation.

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