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What Is Jessica’s Law and What Does It Mean?

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Public concerns over sex offenders produced tighter restrictions with the passage of Texas’ Jessica’s Law. In 2005, a repeat sex offender named John Couey abducted a nine-year-old girl, Jessica Lunsford, from her home in Florida. She was raped and murdered. Outrage over the case caused Texas, New York, and California to pass a version of Florida’s Jessica Lunsford Act. In Texas, Jessica’s Law (2007) requires a mandatory minimum prison sentence, notification of the sex offender’s whereabouts, lifetime parole registration upon release, and restrictions about residency.


H.B. 8 (“The Jessica Lunsford Act”) in Texas strengthens penalties against those accused of continuous sexual abuse of a child when multiple offenses are committed by an individual age 17 or older when the child is younger than age 14 over a 30-plus day period [§ 1.02, ch. 21, § 21.02(b)]. The law institutes a 25-year minimum sentence for the convicted offender. There is no early release provision for convicts.

Capital offenders are death penalty-eligible. The law enables jurors to deliberate about whether to sentence the repeat sexual predator to death or to life in prison. Those concerned about the convicted sex offender’s rights argue that the convict and his or her family members continue to bear social punishment long after incarceration ends. For this reason, it is essential to engage an experienced Houston sex crimes attorney if you or a loved one has been accused a sexual offense against a child.

Continuous Sexual Abuse Definition

An individual accused of continuous sexual abuse is alleged to have repeated at least two or more acts of abuse against a child of 14 years or younger in a 30-day period or more. Sexual abuse acts include:

  • Child indecency: contact with the child’s genitals/anus, but not the breasts
  • Sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault
  • Aggravated kidnapping, with intent to sexually abuse/violate the victim
  • Burglary of habitation with the intent to commit sexual offenses
  • Sexual performance by a child

The defendant may be charged with sexual abuse committed against one or more than one child victims. A jury trying a continuous sexual abuse case is required to unanimously agree that the accused committed two or more sexual abuse acts over at least 30 days. An indictment may allege that the defendant committed many sexually abusive acts or the child may state that he or she suffered hundreds of abusive acts. The jury need only agree that at least two of the alleged acts occurred to convict the defendant.

Jessica’s Law in Texas

Other than a capital murder charge, an offense of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child is the highest level of offense one can face in Texas. Juries tend to levy severe punishments of those convicted of the charge. The primary components of Texas’s Jessica’s Law include:

  • Longer statute of limitations. There isn’t a statute of limitations for most crimes committed against children less than 17 years old. The limit for filing a charge relating to sexual performance by a child, burglary of a habitation with intent to commit a sexual offense, or aggravated kidnapping with the intent to commit sex abuse is 20 years after the victim turns 18 years old.
  • Increased number of felonies. Many sex crimes committed against a child are subject to a higher degree of felony. This means harsher punishments for those convicted of sexual offenses against a child. For instance, a charge of sexual performance by a child younger than 14 (by directing/promoting performance) is a second-degree felony, not a third-degree felony.
  • Mandatory minimum sentence. If convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child, the accused faces a minimum 25-year prison sentence. Aggravated sexual assault is defined by the rape of a child of younger than 6 years old or rape of a child between 7 and 14 years using kidnapping, bodily harm, or weapons to induce. The criminal faces a prison sentence of up to 25 to 99 years or life in prison without the provision of early release. If convicted twice for aggravated sexual assault, the criminal faces capital punishment.
  • Probation ineligibility. Jessica’s Law in Texas added additional sex crimes committed against child victims less than 14 years old to offenses that are ineligible for punishment with probation.
  • Electric monitor. When the convict is released on parole, he or she bears the potential for constant electronic monitoring.

Punishments are exceptionally severe if found guilty of a sexual offense against a child. If you or someone you love has been accused of a sexual crime, contact a knowledgeable sex crimes defense attorney to protect your rights.

Full Legal Press

Before the enactment of H.B. 8 into law, the prosecution could obtain assistance from the state attorney general only when an elected prosecutor requested it. Even when a request was made, the attorney general could decline to offer the requested help. In the past, both parties were legally required to agree that the assistance was necessary. Either could just say no.

Today, H.B. 8 requires that if and when the county attorney or district attorney requests it, the attorney general must provide technical, investigative, and litigation help in the prosecution of sexual criminals targeting children. In this legal framework, the accused faces the full force of the state when the county or district attorney asks for help.

This change represents a major shift in the constitutional relationship between elected local prosecutors and the office of the attorney general.

Experienced Sex Crimes Defense

Jessica’s Law is complex. If accused of continuous sexual abuse against a child, it is imperative to seek legal resources to mount a vigorous defense as soon as possible.

Beyond the imposition of harsher punishment than more than 99 percent of all Texas felonies, the predicate offenses needed to trigger Jessica’s Law in Texas are concerning. If you or a loved one is facing the continuous sexual abuse of a child statute, it is essential to hire experienced sex crimes defense counsel right away.

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