Jessica’s Law – The Jessica Lunsford Act

Jessica’s Story, Subsequent Laws and Sex Offender Awareness


Along with current controversy surrounding Sex Offender Registration and the Registry itself

In 2005 Florida Governor Bush signed into law the Jessica Lunsford Act.

The Act focused primarily on increasing the measures used to monitor sexual offenders or predators and put new pressure on public school districts to perform background checks on contractors and subcontractors (basically anyone given access to school grounds while the school is open).

Jessica’s Law the informal name most commonly used to refer to the 2005 Florida law (The Jessica Lunsford Act) was also adopted by many other US States looking to further protect children within their state from sex offenders.  The legislation was also written to reduce the ability of previous sex offenders from striking again, thus thwarting the risk of recidivism. Currently the Jessica Lunsford Act remains state law and has yet to be enacted into federal law by the US Congress.

Little 9-year old girl Jessica Marie Lunsford was found dead inside a hold in the ground where her murderer and rapist John Couey left her a day or two earlier.  The autopsy found some of her fingers with no flesh and just bone as she poked them through the garbage bag John Couey wrapped her in as an attempt to breathe as she suffocated to death.  John Couey broke into Jessica’s home early in the morning and kidnapped her.  He brought her to his trailer where he rapped her at least twice before tricking her into a garbage bag and burying her alive.

To view the full story of Jessica Lunsford we recommend reading the Encyclopedia Wikipedia’s summary found at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Lunsford

John Couey was later arrested in Augusta, Georgia on March 18, 2005 where he confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering young Jessica Lunsford.  Couey was found guilty in the state of Florida for first degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery.  Although the death penalty was recommended, Couey ended up dying in prison in September 2009 as the case was being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

As a result of this horrific and heinous crime against a child, public outcry led to the creation of new legislation to help prevent the recurrence of this villainous crime.  The result was the passing of a new Florida law named after the young girl officially called The Jessica Lunsford Act, also known as Jessica’s Law.

Two key provisions for sex offenders created by Jessica’s Law are:

  • Mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison
  • Lifetime electronic monitoring
    • This is specifically for adults who have been convicted of lewd, unchaste or licentious acts against a victim less than 12 years old.

In Florida, sexual battery or rape of a child less than twelve years old is punishable by life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

Because John Couey was a previously convicted sex offender the importance of notifying nearby community residents with children when a registered sex offender moves close by or already lives next to them becomes critical to protecting the safety of a community.  Performing sex offender checks on everyone given access to school grounds during school hours becomes an obvious civic duty.  Enacting law to prevent previous sex offenders from striking again became a primary initiative as news got out surrounding the details of Jessica’s death and John Couey’s past.  Originally this crime was allegedly committed by a subcontracted mason at Jessica Lunsford’s school.  This allegation brought tremendous attention to non-employees that had access to school grounds via contract work and that these individuals were not being pre-screened before given access to school grounds (as current law didn’t demand it).  This is why part of The Jessica Lunsford Act specifically deals with performing background checks on all individuals given access to school district campuses.

The Act itself primarily focuses on increasing the measures used to monitor sexual offenders or predators.  However, seeing the blatant gap in school safety standards exposed by the unconscionable crime committed against Jessica Lunsford brought about new Florida State Standards including background checks being performed on all personal given access to school grounds even if they are just a subcontractor.  The new ruling is to prevent another Jessica Lunsford story and expand the background screening policy to everyone who could be given access to school grounds to thwart attacks from sexual offenders and predators that get access to school grounds via contract work etc…

The Amber Alert which you will find on the top of this page is an international broadcasting system immediately notifying millions of people of a suspected missing child.  AMBER actually stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response.” The system was named after another 9-year old girl Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered in Texas in 1996.

Megan’s Law which became active in 1996 came from the unconscionable rape and murder of little seven year old girl Megan Kanka.  This new law created widespread public demand for community notification and awareness of registered sexual predators living within striking distance of kids and young teens.  Megan’s Law is attributed as being the driving force behind the creation of the United States Sex Offender Registry System.

The Technical Assistance Paper for the Jessica Lunsford Act under “District Responsibilities, Section 1 Background Screening” gives the following instructions on what is required for districts in regards to their background screening efforts:

School districts must conduct the fingerprinting/background screening of non-instructional or contractual personnel at a location designated by the district using the code (ORI – Originating Agency Identifier) issued to the district by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and determine whether the individual has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude.

Moral Turpitude as defined within the Jessica Lunsford Act is as follows:

“Moral turpitude is a crime that is evidenced by an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties, which, according to the accepted standards of the time a man owes to his or her fellow man or to society in general, and the doing of the act itself and not its prohibition by statute fixes the moral turpitude.” The Encyclopedia Wikipedia defines “Moral Turpitude” as follows, “a legal concept in the United States that refers to “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”

Ultimately, the responsibility to ensure that campuses are accessed by properly screened and approved individual’s remains with each district, and each district must implement processes that are effective based on each school’s unique situation.  Within the text of the Jessica Lunsford Act districts are allowed and even encouraged to share their background screening results with other public school districts.  This measure is to both cut costs and to readily inform other districts of a pending threat.

Here is the link to view the complete Technical Assistance Paper for the Jessica Lunsford Act:  http://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-3151/k12_05-107a.pdf

Part of the reason this Act has not yet become Federal Law is due to the large amount of controversy surrounding the legislation.  The text below explains the reasons behind some of the controversy.

People disagree on the process and circumstances in which individuals become labeled as a sex offender and/or are added to a states sex offender registry. Since some sex offender registries contain offenders that have not been convicted of any physical sexual act towards a clear victim, some ask why should this person be treated the same as a hard core sex offender or sexual predator.  Here are two examples to help explain these situations:

Example #1: Person gets caught by an undercover police officer posing as an underage minor while chatting online using sexual language, in this case there is no physical contact and the offender may not even know what their victim looks like or even where they live.

Example #2: Consensual sexual relationships of teenagers can also result into one of them getting added to a sex offender registry where either the male or female partner is considered underage according to the law.

The second example would not be due to Jessica’s Law as Jessica’s Law only applies to adults who commit sexual offenses against children 12 years old or younger.

Individuals being charged for sex offenses where no physical contact occurred and/or had no knowledge of their victim, it is argued, get labeled as sex offenders and get added to the sex offender registry because they do not have the funds to properly defend themselves legally.  This is why some charged person’s end up plea bargaining for lack of a better option, which in some states leads to instant sex offender registration.  However, the counter argument to this is that many of these potential violent/physical offenders were simply caught before committing the deed.  The discussion and controversy surrounding this issue still continues today.

PLEASE NOTE: If you place a criminal background check you should also receive a 50-State National Sex Offender Registry Search for FREE.  In addition to the Free National Sex Offender Registry Search a Free America’s Most Wanted List Search and Free International Terrorist Database Search should also be included.