On April 20, 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger endorsed California Assembly Bill 1844, named "Chelsea's Law," designed to strengthen criminal penalties for sexual offenders. The bill was introduced shortly after it was disclosed that John Albert Gardner III, who pled guilty in April 2010 to the brutal rape and murder of two San Diego teenagers, had been convicted in 2000 of molesting a 13-year-old girl. Gardner spent five years in prison for that offense, but considerable outrage was expressed over the fact that he was no longer on parole at the time of the murders, despite numerous parole violations.
The bill includes three main provisions.
- A one-strike provision for the most serious crimes against children younger than 18 - putting even first-time offenders behind bars for life without the possibility of parole.
- The required lifetime parole with GPS monitoring of certain offenders - those committing sexual crimes against victims younger than 14 years old - after their release from prison.
- A convicted sex offender would be charged with a misdemeanor and a parole violation if found near a park where children frequent, resulting in a return to prison.
The proposed measure met opposition from the California Public Defenders Association, and a challenge to the bill is expected in the California Senate.
Laws that substantially increase criminal penalties are often the result of reactions to horrific crimes. Criminals rarely consider the consequences of their actions or stop to reflect before committing even the most egregious offenses. With the prison population expanding, many argue that resources should be utilized to prevent such crimes from occurring at all. For example, results of California's three-strikes law have shown a negligible effect on overall recidivist rates.
Supporters of enhanced sex offender or sexual predator legislation often point to the reputedly high recidivist rates for sex offenders, arguing that treatment and rehabilitation are useless or largely ineffective. Many offender programs lack funds, however, and without well-funded studies that might result in effective treatment programs for sex offenders, there may be little else to address the causes of the most horrific crimes.
For more information on Chelsea's Law and how it may affect a case you may be involved in, contact an attorney.