AUGUSTA – Creating a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for some of the most heinous sex offenders, those who assault young children, would do more harm than good, state representatives argued Tuesday.

The House defeated a bill to create the mandatory minimum after lengthy debate. Of 137 representatives voting, 32 supported the bill.

The bill would have amended “Jessica’s law,” which was signed last year, by replacing the 20-year sentencing suggestion with a 25-year mandate, applying to those whose victims were younger than 12. Re-offenders would be locked up for life.

This was one of about 25 bills heard in the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee this session pertaining to sex offenders. All but six of the bills were killed in committee.

Both legislative chambers gave their blessing Tuesday to three other bills – one to increase the severity of a sex crime if the offender furnished drugs of alcohol to the victim, another creating a new crime of prohibited contact with a minor, and one making changes to probation and supervised release.

The mandatory minimum sentencing bill will next go to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, and a former district attorney, said she had more familiarity with the issue than any of her colleagues. She opposed the bill.

“Nobody abhors sexual molestation more than I,” Mills said.

Mills said mandatory minimums would eliminate any motivation for an offender to plea-bargain, so more cases would instead go to trial. At that point, the case would be dependent on the traumatized child victim taking the stand, a trauma in itself.

If the child couldn’t take the stand and the prosecution couldn’t otherwise prove the case, “The person would walk free,” Mills said.

Mills said Jessica’s Law as written is a “good law,” and officials have not given it enough time.

Rep. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, said district attorneys and advocacy groups opposed the legislation. “We really tried to work it so it worked right,” he said. Judges, “can go higher, or they can go lower.”

There have been 20-, 30- and 40-year sentences for gross sexual assault handed down in the state, Gerzofsky said.

Of the bill’s supporters, 30 were Republican, one was a Democrat and one was an independent. Twenty-two Republicans opposed the bill.

Rep. James R. Campbell Sr., R-Newfield, who voted for the measure, said upon release a high-profile sex offender moved to his town. Constituents called him a “gutless wonder” for not supporting previous sex offender legislation. He didn’t want that to happen again.


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