Florida law enforcement officials and state legislators are considering the enactment of tougher consequences for sexual predators and are calling for a review of the current law.
In committee meetings this week, they discussed ways to give law enforcement officials more legal tools to deal with offenders and prevent re-offenses.
The situation was brought to light after the abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherrish Perrywinkle by Donald James Smith, a registered sex offender, in Jacksonville this summer garnered national publicity.
This was one of the many other cases, including the abduction, sexual assault and murder of Jessica Lunsford in Citrus County in 2005 and abduction, rape and murder of 7-year-old Somer Thompson in Clay County in 2009, that have forced Florida’s law enforcement officials and legislators to question the effectiveness of the current laws.
Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said although the current system works for some cases, sometimes it isn’t enough.
“It’s a situation where the system works pretty well 95 percent of the time, but in those five percent, they are horrendous cases and it’s simply cases we can’t lose,” he said. “We can’t be in a position to endanger the public.”
Florida has the fourth highest number of registered sex offenders in the nation, and after convicted offenders serve their time, depending on the severity of their case, they can be fully released back into society.
Lt. Scott Tummond, criminal investigations commander in Levy County, said he suggests enacting a costly, but highly effective way of monitoring offenders after their release.
“The only thing that I can envision is some type of GPS monitoring that they need to wear after their release,” he said. “You have to look at what type of sanctions the court is placing on them when they get convicted of whatever crime it is they have committed.”
Tummond said the current law is not strict enough on offenders that violate their check-ins or are found in prohibited areas, and he recommends that the state increase penalties for violations with stronger sentencing.
While most lawmakers would like to see criminals learn from their ways, not all offenders can be rehabilitated, and Baxley said studies show that some people cannot be trusted.
“Once they cross that bright line and they are identified a predator, it is very hard due to the limited number of people that we see recover with any kind of rehabilitation,” Baxley said. “Many of these people are simply wired wrong and they will tell you, ‘ I’ll never be OK, I’m dangerous.’”
John Rutherford, sheriff of Duval county, which is where Cherrish Perrywinkle was abducted, said he has been questioning why and how something so drastic could have happened.
He said law enforcement officials need more tools to effectively prevent sexual predators from fully acting out.
“And I think we really need the ability to go in and search their residence for evidence of sexual crimes,” he said. “I’d like to look at their computer to see if they’re involved in child pornography—those sort of things—whether they may be doing drugs which could lead them to go out and re-offend sexually.”
Rutherford said he believes privacy should be compromised for sexual offenders in certain cases.
“I could literally be talking to a sexual predator, a sexually violent predator, at the front door of his residence, and he could have a little boy tied up in the back bedroom,” he said.
The official legislative session is in March, and Baxley said until then, lawmakers will work on potential bills.
“We are in the process of reviewing everything that touches that arena to see what changes we need to make, because our first job is public safety,” he said.