Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brooke Bennett - I Think About Her

I read an interesting opinion piece in the Rutland Herald:

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has been pushing for a special session to allow the Legislature to consider passage of Jessica's Law, which would put in place mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years for those who sexually abuse children.

"My main thrust is giving state's attorneys additional tools," he said.

It is a tool Vermont's state's attorneys don't want. They have argued persistently and persuasively that a mandatory minimum of 25 years would make incarceration of sex offenders more difficult, not less. That's because defendants facing a mandatory sentence of such length will tend to take the case to trial, rather than plea-bargaining to a lesser offense.

A plea bargain is not a get-out-of-jail procedure. It is the technique used by prosecutors to gain a conviction when a weak case may make conviction at trial difficult. It also allows prosecutors to gain a conviction without subjecting victims to the ordeal of testifying at trial, often against family members. The unwillingness of victims to testify at trial undermines many cases, making a plea bargain the safest route to a conviction. That is why victims' advocates are also among those opposing Jessica's Law.

The key to ensuring that sex offenders do not evade justice through plea bargaining is to make sure that the penalties they face are severe, even if they don't amount to 25 years. Recent changes in Vermont law included a toughening of the penalty for aggravated sexual assault to a presumptive minimum of 10 years and a mandatory minimum of five years.

The Legislature may well determine, in the wake of the murder of Brooke Bennett, that that sentence ought to be tougher. The incoherence on Dubie's part comes from his view that Jessica's Law would be a tool for prosecutors when the prosecutors say that, rather than a tool, it would be a hindrance.
I'm still baffled by the logic and thought process behind Vermont law. All I know is Brooke is gone and her
kidnapping and murder raises so many questions.

Are sentences for sex offenders tough enough in Vermont?

Are Vermont judges too lenient?

Is Brooke’s death the result of conservative or liberal policy?

Who is responsible for the murder of Brooke Bennett?

The legislature who can’t seem to grasp what needs to be done to protect the children in Vermont, the Department of Corrections that let Jacques go, the judge who signed the release order? Why, after prosecutors argued against the release, did no one question Jacques’ release?

There are no easy answers.