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Jessica Lunsford Act Unanimously Passes NJ Assembly Committee

This morning, the Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the “Jessica Lunsford Act” which would revise and increase the criminal penalties on those who commit sex crimes against minors.

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Governor Christie
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Governor Christie (NancyMunoz.net)

The bill imposes a mandatory term of imprisonment on persons convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under the age of 13.

Originally, the measure was sponsored by Assemblyman Eric Muñoz in 2005 and has received committee approvals in the three prior legislative sessions, but was never posted for a vote in the General Assembly. After Assemblyman Muñoz passed away in March 2009, he was succeeded by his wife, Nancy Muñoz, who has been the primary sponsor of the legislation ever since, including the current bill.

“New Jersey’s children need to be protected from pedophiles who prey on innocent victims,” says Assemblywoman Muñoz. “The overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation shows that our state will protect and defend its citizens, especially children. My husband was intent on passing this important legislation and I am proud to continue the effort. The support and perseverance of all the sponsors is testimony to the importance of the Jessica Lunsford Act. I hope that Speaker (Sheila) Oliver will post this bill for a vote as soon as possible.”

Under the bill, a person convicted of aggravated sexual assault on someone under the age of 13, is guilty of a first degree crime. Under the new legislation, the assailant would be sentenced to a specific term of years fixed by the court. The term would be between 25 years and life imprisonment, of which the person must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole.

This legislation is similar to Florida’s “Jessica Lunsford Act.” Jessica Lunsford was a nine-year-old Florida resident, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a registered sex offender, John Couey. Couey received the death penalty in August 2007, but died in federal prison in September 2009.

“Right now, an individual convicted of abusing a child younger than 13 could face anywhere from 10 to 20 years in prison. This bill would upgrade the punishment to a mandatory 25 years before parole could even be considered. Given the heinous nature of the crime, they deserve nothing less,” says Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green, one of the bill’s 41 Assembly co-sponsors. “The fate that these children endured is an affront to human decency and a fate that no one deserves. We must do everything in our power to protect our children from sexual predators.”

The late Eric Muñoz introduced the original bill after learning the details of Jessica Lunsford’s death and he invited Jessica’s father to New Jersey in 2005 to advocate for the legislation. Assemblywoman Muñoz met with Mr. Lunsford in New Jersey in March 2011 and June 2012 to again speak about his support for the “Jessica Lunsford Act.”

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