NASHVILLE — The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference will continue pushing for changes in state laws during the 2014 legislative session to better enable prosecution of serial child sexual abusers and to increase punishment for child neglect.
The district attorneys will also continue seeking legislative approval for additional assistant district attorneys in judicial districts that have seen the largest caseload increases since 2006, when the General Assembly last added new prosecutors.
“In 2014, we will continue our push for stronger laws to protect our kids,” said Steve Bebb, district attorney general for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. “If the Legislature approves these proposed changes, I’m confident we will be able to accomplish that goal.”
One change would allow a serial child sexual abuser to be prosecuted with a single trial, even if the abuses occurred in multiple judicial districts. Currently, defendants accused of multiple counts of child sexual abuse in different jurisdictions must be tried separately in each of those jurisdictions.
“This duplication of efforts is a tremendous burden for victims and their families,” said James W. Kirby, director of the conference.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1362 by Sen. Ken Yager and House Bill 1293 by Rep. Vince Dean, was approved by the respective judiciary committees. But, funding was not included in the 2013-14 state budget and must now be considered by the Senate and House Finance committees.
The district attorneys are also seeking to increase the minimum amount of time that must be served before a prisoner is eligible for parole to 85 percent for two specific crimes, aggravated child neglect and attempted first-degree murder where there is serious bodily injury.
“Most crimes in Tennessee require only 30 percent of a sentence to be served in jail or prison,” Kirby said. “Right now, there are individuals who are convicted of extremely serious child neglect — cases in which children suffer as much as those who are victims of physical abuse — who end up serving relatively short sentences.”
Other legislative priorities that the conference will address during the upcoming session include:
- Providing greater fairness to crime victims and to juries by requiring both the prosecution and defense to disclose a list of potential witnesses prior to trial.
- Allowing a photograph of a homicide victim to be introduced during trial depicting the victim prior to the homicide.
- Allowing search warrants to be requested and issued electronically. The standards and criteria for issuance of search warrants would be unchanged.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference coordinates prosecutorial efforts of the district attorneys general and seeks more prompt and efficient administration of justice, according to a prepared news release. It is composed of the district attorneys general from the state’s 31 judicial districts who are responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases on behalf of the state.