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Senators Fred H. Madden (D-Camden and Gloucester)

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden, Jr. and Senator Jeff Van Drew that would increase mandatory prison sentences for repeat sex offenders was approved yesterday by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

The bill, S-454, would increase the mandatory minimum sentence for a person convicted of a repeat sex offense involving sexual assault, criminal sexual contact or lewdness involving a minor. According to the legislation, offenders would serve 85 percent of the maximum penalty under the law during which they would be ineligible for parole. The bill also expands the number of crimes subject to mandatory minimum sentences to include repeat offenses for certain crimes involving children and individuals who are mentally vulnerable.

“Protecting our residents against sexual violence must be a top priority. That is why harsher sentencing is necessary for those convicted,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “While we have strict penalties to ensure that offenders are punished for these crimes, we must do more to protect our loved ones. Establishing stricter penalties will ensure that repeat offenders are sentenced for the maximum penalty. This will help to keep residents, children and vulnerable persons in our communities safe.”

Under current law, a person who is convicted of a second or subsequent crime of sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual contact must serve a mandatory term of five years. This bill increases the mandatory minimum sentence and expands the number of crimes subject to mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment to include the third degree crime of criminal sexual assault, and the fourth degree crime of lewdness if a minor or vulnerable adult is the victim.

“Any person convicted of a repeat sexual offense should be strictly punished,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland). “By increasing the mandatory minimum sentences, we will send a message that we take this issue very seriously. This bill is critical to the safety of our residents and we hope will serve as a powerful deterrent.”

Under the legislation, a repeat sexual offender convicted of an aggravated sexual assault crime of the first degree would serve 85 percent of the maximum 20-year prison sentence (or 17 years). A repeat sexual offender convicted of a sexual assault crime of the second degree would serve 85 percent of the maximum 10-year prison sentence (or eight years and six months).

Additionally, the court may reduce sentencing if the defendant pleads guilty to a negotiated agreement that the court finds is in the best interest of the victim, or if it is considered a serious injustice to the defendant. The court would be required to provide the reasons for imposing a lesser sentence than 85 percent of the maximum term, according to the bill.

The Attorney General would be required to develop uniform guidelines for the prosecution and plea negotiations of repeat offenses.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 35 percent of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17. The Department reported that sex offenses represent under one percent of all arrests. Sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is defined as “attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender and can involve force or verbal threats.”

The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 4-0. It now heads to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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