Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced The Federal Zero Tolerance of Child Sexual Abuse Act of 2011 in the wake of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal which is a laudable step. But I have a problem with zero tolerance laws because of the unintended consequences that tends to happen with these types of policies and laws.
We have seen zero tolerance laws and policies run amuck in schools in which an administrator has to follow some zealous policy that lacks logic when a student screws up for a minor issue like bringing in a toe clipper and is suspended for half the year because the policy says they brought a weapon or when a student draws a picture of a weapon even a fantasy one and they get kicked out of school for weeks.
We have seen this in the courts when judges have to follow certain mandatory minimum sentences that would lock up a first offender to 15 years to life for a low level crime because they hit three strikes. It makes zero sense to have zero tolerance laws on the books because anyone can be arrested and charged for a crime and have it worked through the court system. Mistakes can be made and I profiled my wrongful arrest case (http://exm.nr/uL0jn5) in which the police work was shoddy and I was nearly railroaded.
I am a father of two young children and I would be the first to go out and hunt down a child sex predator if one were to harm my daughters. But the facts of the matter are that zero tolerance laws do not make us any safer and do not help society because anybody can be put in a situation that has absolutely nothing to do with a child sex abuse case but trigger the zero tolerance provisions of said law.
The only people that are going to suffer are the low and middle class citizens that cannot afford a qualified attorney and do not have large sums of money to launch a proper defense. People like Jerry Sandusky who made hundreds of thousands of dollars per year can afford the best legal defense team and probably will get off with little or no jail time and what then would a zero tolerance law have done, the answer is nothing.
Ms. Jackson Lee is quoted in saying “I will soon be introducing legislation that will immediately suspend and stop all federal funds being received by institutions, employees or any other entities where sexual abuse of children is not immediately reported. This legislation will of course exempt any funding going directly to students such as Pell Grants etc. This legislation will cover non-profits, state and local organizations and possibly other entities.” In a general sense this sounds great until it actually happens and when it does those entities that help the working poor and the needy will suffer because they did not report an issue immediately. When Ms. Jackson Lee states immediately what does that mean? Does it mean when the victim is right in front of the person being told who in turns calls the police while the victim is right in front of them. Does it mean with in 12 or 24 hours?
These are questions that need to be answered before any legislation should be introduced. We have seen too many politicians propose laws under emotional circumstances. Does anybody remember the Terry Schiavo case and the subsequent Terri’s law and the Palm Sunday Compromise aka Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo,(S.686) which were ruled unconstitutional.
I agree something needs to be done about child sex abuse but to take the control away from the courts and from the states is wrong. Zero tolerance law are always misguided because it leaves no room to work with especially when a case triggers the zero tolerance provisions of that law that is being applied even when the original intent of the law is not in play.
Child sex abuse has no place in our society and those who commit this act against a vulnerable child should be held accountable for their actions. As a former criminal justice professional, I believe that the courts are competent to make that judgment we as citizens should not allow our legislatures both state and national to take that judgment away to full fill what is popular at the current moment. That is why I believe that Ms. Jackson Lee’s proposed bill goes too far by taking that control away from the courts and prosecutors.