This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," May 3, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tuesday night, the State of Florida is cracking down on child molesters. Just weeks after the body of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was found near her home, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the Jessica Lunsford Act (search) into state law. How will this new law affect sex offenders?
Joining us in Tampa is defense attorney Jeff Brown and prosecutor Pam Bondi. Pam, first of all, what is this law?
PAM BONDI, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: The Jessica Lunsford Act and what it does is it really does, Greta, make it a lot tougher — on sex crimes. It creates minimum mandatories.
If you’re convicted of a sex crime, a crime against a child under 12 years old, you’re now facing 25 years to life, whereas before it was a maximum penalty of 30 years.
The law also provides for lifetime electronic monitoring, which is key for any sexual offender. It also gives the state another aggravator involving a sex crime against a child when we’re seeking the death penalty.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Jeff is there anything constitutionally wrong with this or is there any problem with this statute?
JEFF BROWN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, my problem with the statute is it’s real easy to look at the Jessica Lunsford case and say this person should get life or the 25- year minimum mandatory.
But, I always, when I look at these laws, I look at the gray area and I say, OK, put aside the emotional cases and what happens when you have the case of a bitter divorce where one spouse has an 11-year-old child accusing the father or the wife of touching the butt of that child?
And that’s what we’re talking about here. It could be the breast, the butt. Now, that case is looking at a 25-year minimum mandatory to life, as if 30 years wasn’t enough.
I mean what we’re really saying is that the judges just aren’t doing their job. That’s what they’re saying because the judge always had the discretion to give somebody 30 years and that to me seems like it’s enough.
Now we’re creating a situation where we’re going to have people in this gray area that are looking at 25-year minimum mandatories and I just don’t think that that’s where we want to be. It’s just a knee jerk reaction and I think the best policy is to sit back and wait a little bit longer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, would you concede that the justice system is not perfect and sometimes people make false claims and sometimes people get wrongfully convicted, some rightfully convicted but wrongfully convicted?
BONDI: You know, Greta, I think sometimes people wrongfully accuse other people but hopefully, hopefully, you know, every prosecutor I know only wants to convict a guilty person and, again, like Jeff said.
VAN SUSTEREN: I agree with that. I agree with that.
BROWN: Who makes that decision though? You know, I mean it’s real easy to say everybody wants to convict a guilty person and so do I, but who is to say that? Usually the state believes their witnesses and they refuse to believe other witnesses.
So, it’s — I mean just what you do is you create this situation though where someone is looking at a 25-year minimum mandatory and life imprisonment (search) and it could be based on the word of a child.
BONDI: Except, Greta, it’s still beyond a reasonable doubt. And I’ll tell you what. I don’t care if it’s an 11-year-old or a 10-year- old, if you inappropriately touch a child like that, you should be locked up and the key should be thrown away. A sex offender is a sex offender.
BROWN: No, I mean and that’s why I was talking about that situation. Go ahead, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what about the situation, Pam that — I mean obviously look in the Jessica Lunsford thing is unthinkable and you have a statute to take care of that. It’s called a murder statute, not to mention rape and kidnapping as well, which will certainly handle this man very well.
But what about the situation where you have, you know, a divorced situation? You have a stepparent or whatever and you have a child who hates the stepparent and makes the accusation and there are no eyewitnesses and there may be no forensic evidence.
It’s simply, you know, he did it. How do we protect against that sort of mandatory 25-to-life, Pam, in the event that maybe the judge thinks this is a five-year not a 25-to-life?
BONDI: Well, it does take away the discretion from the judges. You’re right and Jeff is right in that case. But, again, you would go to a jury trial and a jury would convict a defendant of that. But, yes, it in essence does take away discretion from the court in giving these minimum mandatory sentences.
VAN SUSTEREN: Jeff, what was — I mean in the Lunsford case what was it that no one bothered to monitor this guy? They just like, I mean because in Florida you have some rules to monitor these people so that people would have known where he was.
BROWN: Right. He’s out of the residence where he’s registered to be and nobody has checked on that and he’s living at a place where the law says he’s not supposed to be and he’s committing a third degree felony.
And I said this before. I think we have sufficient laws on the books if they will enforce them. The problem becomes how do you monitor these people? How do you send people out to their homes to make sure that they’re there?
That same problem is going to exist under the new law, so we haven’t rectified that situation unless the legislature is going to come up with a lot more money to be able to monitor them. The law is still there. It’s just a question of enforcing it and this law doesn’t do that.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right.
BROWN: All it does is create harsher penalties.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I understand, I want to point out, I agree with you, Pam, I’ve known a lot of prosecutors and prosecutors only want to convict guilty people. They don’t want to convict innocent people. I totally agree with you on that. Jeff, Pam, thank you both very much.
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