10,000 people have reportedly signed the Lt. Governor's petition calling for Jessica's Law. At least one of those signers missed the fine print. Among other provisions, Dubie's new law would include “a ‘presumptive’ clause for weak evidence or a victim who chooses not to testify.” In other words, anyone accused of a sex crime against a child would be presumed guilty. Just the accusation. That’s all you would need to convict.
I am old enough to remember a daycare scandal about 1990 when many children charged their daycare workers with sex abuse. In a Salem-witch-trial atmosphere, all those workers were convicted in the press, lost their livelihood and several their freedom. Later the children admitted that all the charges had been untrue. The kids’ stories had been influenced by the adults who questioned them.
We learned from that case. Now investigators are much more careful about who interviews a child victim and how the child is approached. But false accusations are still possible. Divorced parents often want to “get” the other spouse. There are even angry, vindictive kids out there.
Dubie needed to overcome the resistance of prosecutors to Jessica’s law. Since police and state’s attorneys fear that real perpetrators go free if we enact Jessica’s law (See blog 7/14), advocates for the 25-year minimum sentence rely on this presumption to overcome an argument they cannot otherwise defeat.
When I confronted one of my friends who had signed Dubie’s petition, she admitted that she had not read all the fine print. She still believes in our constitutional right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So at least one person is having second thoughts about having added her voice to the clamor. Another signer said that he assumed any problems with the petition, such as the presumption of guilt, would be ironed out in the legislative process. Sadly, the one-day special legislative session proposed by the Lt. Governor would not allow for any hearings, revision or serious debate over such details. How many more of those 10,000 signers also believe that this issue is too complex for a quickie fix?
[This is an update to a series I wrote three weeks ago examining some of the issues raised by the Brooke Bennett tragedy. Entitled “The Call to do ‘Something,’” you can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4]