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Blunt signs sex offender measure into law


Jefferson City, MO – People released from the state's sexually violent predator program will be monitored and face other restrictions under a bill signed into law by Governor Matt Blunt on Monday.

The bill also cracks down on sex offenders who harm children.

A key element of the bill requires those convicted of forcible rape or forcible sodomy to generally serve at least 30 years in prison if the victim was younger than 12. And "persistent" sex offenders those with certain previous rape or sodomy convictions must serve life without parole, up from the current 30 years.

"This bill is a tough bill...These are terrible crimes," Blunt said as he signed the legislation at the Capitol amid a two-day series of stops to highlight the new law. "We're sending a message to sexual predators that in Missouri we take this seriously."

A lesser-discussed provision also could have significance in the future. It sets up a process for monitoring people once they are released from civil commitment to the sexually violent predator program.

Under a 1998 state law, convicted sex offenders can be held beyond their criminal sentences if a judge or jury in a separate civil trial determines they have a mental abnormality that predisposes them to sexually violent offenses and makes it difficult for them to control their behavior.

No one has been released yet, though some have applied, according to the state Department of Mental Health, which oversees the program in Farmington. The program has about 100 offenders and adds about 17 a year.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns about the money being spent on the program, but program officials said shortchanging the program could lead to it being tossed out by a court. If the courts found the state was not providing adequate treatment, the commitment could be ruled an unconstitutional additional punishment, because the offenders already served their criminal sentences.

Mental health officials also raised concerns about releasing anyone under the old law because it provided for no supervision. This year's legislation sets up a conditional release process. It provides for electronic monitoring of the offender, along with drug and alcohol treatment if needed. The offender also would be subject to various restrictions, including generally avoiding contact with children and not using alcohol or possessing a gun or other "dangerous weapon," and not associating with a felon.

"This really sets some basic conditions," said Mental Health spokesman Bob Bax, The interest here is to really ensure public safety.

Some criminal attorneys and civil liberties groups say those conditions could themselves amount to unfair extra punishment, and they worry it will harm offenders' efforts to re-enter society.

"The government should not continue to intrude on their freedom, especially as invasively as this law does with significant restrictions it imposes on people well after they've served their sentence," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. "Other criminals don't have these restrictions imposed on them."

Blunt, however, said the law was on solid legal ground.

"That question has been dealt with by the courts and it's been upheld," he said. "I think the legislation we passed is constitutional and good and will better protect children in our state."

Supporters of the sex offender bill said they tried to strike a careful balance, enacting stricter penalties that were not so harsh that prosecutors could not win convictions.

The bill, which became law upon Blunt's signature, also makes various changes to the sex offender registry. The changes include adding more crimes to the registry while removing some nonsexual crimes. Also, offenders would have to provide more details for listing on the public registry, including information such as a recent photo, a vehicle license plate and work address. Some offenders also could ask a judge to be removed from the sex offender registry after a period of time.