Sentencing for a Lifetime of Pain<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
J. Michael Sharman
Column No. 15
Publication Date: <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />January 24, 2006
What punishment is appropriate for stealing a boy or girl's childhood? What can compensate a child for a pain that colors all their future relationships and goes on for a lifetime?
Virginia's new Attorney General Bob McDonnell is trying to persuade the Virginia General Assembly that the proper punishment for certain categories of sexual assault against a child is a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years.
"My first priority", said Attorney General McDonnell, "will be to ensure that the children of Virginia grow up safe and secure in their neighborhoods. A critical step in that process is to put convicted sexual predators behind bars for a very long time and monitor them electronically if they are ever released. It is regrettable but true that these criminals cannot be rehabilitated and are likely to commit new crimes. The lives of the children of Virginia are too precious to risk turning out convicted predators with the hope that they are reformed. My number one policy priority as Attorney General will be to protect the children of Virginia."
From my experience as a trial attorney, that protection certainly is needed.
Part of what I do in my law practice is to sue people who have been convicted of at least one felony sexual crime against a child. Parents bring these cases to me after the molester has already been criminally convicted. The main reason the parents want to also take the molester to civil court is because even though child-molesters get prison sentences that look serious on paper, they often wind up doing almost no time.
You can see why the victims' parents think something more needs to be done: The computer analyst in Warrenton was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on one count of Aggravated Sexual Battery, but he served only three months in jail. The heavy equipment operator in Culpeper was sentenced to three years in prison, but he did only 1½ months in jail after credit for his suspended time and his "good time". The retired firefighter from Rappahannock who got 12 years on his six felony convictions is only doing a year and a half. The short-order cook who flits between Waynesboro and Charlottesville was hammered with a 60-year sentence on four felony convictions, but he had it reduced to just a few years under a youthful offender statute.
Without exception, in these cases that the parents have brought to me, the molester is out from behind bars before the child is finished with counseling.
Unfortunately, the experiences of my clients are not unique.
A report released in December 2004 by the U. S. Department of Justice says that throughout the nation in the year studied, there were 95,136 police reports of felony sexual assaults against both adults and children. As a result of those police calls, 10,980 persons were convicted. Of the persons convicted, 1,977 got probation. Of the remaining 9,003 sexual offenders who did get jail or prison time, the average time served was only 39.6 months, even after adding in the sexual assaults that involved a murder. Barely one percent of the reported sexual assaults concluded with the perpetrator paying any restitution for any of the victim's injuries.
Even though Virginia is supposedly a conservative, family-oriented, "red state", it treats child molesters very leniently. The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission reported in 2001 that for persons who were convicted of the three most serious categories of sexual crimes involving children, the average actual time served ranged from sixteen months for taking indecent liberties, to twenty-eight months for aggravated sexual battery. Incredibly, 30.8% of Virginia's felony child molesters were given probation with no time at all behind bars.
Attorney General McDonnell says these molesters should actually serve at least 25 years in prison. Why should we as a state agree to impose such a harsh punishment on these offenders?
The best answer perhaps is the one given to me by the children I represent when I ask them why they would want to go through the pain of suing the person who molested them. They almost always say, "Because I don't want him to ever do this again to anybody else."
 "Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2002", Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (December 2004)
 "Assessing Risk Among Sex Offenders in Virginia", Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (January 15, 2001)
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