Tennessee DAs push for changes to child sex abuse trials, increased sentencing for child neglect

Rain Smith • Jan 25, 2013 at 6:13 AM

Tennessee's District Attorney Generals are pushing for several law changes over the upcoming legislative session, including the ability to prosecute an alleged serial child sex abuser in a single trial, and increased sentences for individuals convicted of aggravated child neglect and attempted first-degree murder.

"Me fellow district attorneys and I, along with our staff members, have the responsibility of protecting Tennesseans by prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of the state," said Sullivan County District Attorney Gen. Barry Staubus. "That requires us to have the appropriate resources, such as enforceable laws that provide appropriate punishments for the crimes committed."

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference released their legislate agenda this week. Staubus highlighted the desire to prosecute serial child sex abusers in a single trial, even if the abuses occurred in multiple jurisdictions, as a law that would benefit Tennessee prosecutors. Staubus cited the Jerry Sandusky trial in Pennsylvania as proof of its effectiveness.

In a press release Guy Jones, deputy director of the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference, said current state law makes such cases times consuming, strains already thin resources and is burdensome on the victims and their families.

Tennessee DAs are also seeking to increase the minimum amount of time that must be served before a prisoner is eligible for parole on some felony convictions, such as attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect.

"What we want to do is increase the minimum time served for aggravated child neglect cases to 85 percent, which is the same as it is for aggravated child abuse cases," said Jones in a prepared statement. "Right now, there are individuals who are convicted of extremely serious child neglect — cases in which children suffered as much as those who are the victims of physical abuse — who end up serving very short sentences. We need to change that to send a message that the state takes all offenses against children seriously, even if they fall short of the legal definition of abuse."

Other legislative priorities of the Tennessee's District Attorneys General Conference, representing the state's 31 district attorneys, include laws that would allow more effective prosecution for prescription drug trafficking and selling synthetic drugs.

Prosecutors also seek clear establishment of criminal proceedings that can be initiated against defendants identified through DNA profiles, even if their actual identities are not known at the time charges are filed. The Conference says this would eliminate the possibility that a sex offender or other violent criminal could escape prosecution several years after DNA evidence was first obtained.

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