The Jimmy Ryce Act and Other Sexual Predator Laws Undergo Changes in Florida

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

2014 promises to be a big year for Florida legislators with a slew of new laws and amendment revisions already making the rounds. The theme is centered on tougher laws and penalties for convicted offenders. Changes include the new Justifiable Use of Force revision as well as a proposal for tougher penalties for DUI and hit and run offenders. Most recently, Florida law makers are reexamining the sexual predator laws and planning revisions that will ultimately lead to harsher punishment for convicted sexual predators. The changes to The Jimmy Ryce Act and other sex offender laws are rumored to be the focal point in Florida’s 2014 legislative calendar.

The Cherish Periwinkle Case

In late June of 2013, eight year old Cherish Periwinkle was abducted from a Walmart in Jacksonville, Florida. The trial that followed was heartbreaking for Florida residents, as evidence proving a gruesome murder and kidnapping of the young girl became apparent. Cherish’s attacker, 56 year old James Donald Smith, was caught on Walmart surveillance cameras exiting the parking lot with the child in his car. When questioned by Florida authorities, Smith claimed that the young girl had only been in his car briefly before jumping out at a stoplight. Evidence suggested that was not the case and Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping.

Florida arresting officials were infuriated when they learned that 56 year old James was a registered sex offender. Currently, Florida ranks in the top ten states with a high populous of sex offenders and studies show that 70% of convicted sexual predators go on to commit further crimes after being released from prison. Due to the startling aftermath of the Cherish Periwinkle murder, Florida legislators agreed to speed up the process of drafting revisions that include harsher penalties for statewide sex offenders.

Changes to The Jimmy Ryce Act

Some of the first scheduled alterations regard the current Jimmy Ryce Act which law enforcement claims is full of loopholes. Under the current law, convicted offenders are reevaluated prior to their release from prison and only sent to the Florida Civil Commitment Center if they fail the initial evaluation. State Attorney Angela Corey claims the evaluation process needs more funding in order to serve the public with accurate results. The revision is aimed at changing the testing process, making it tougher for offenders who show the potential to repeat crimes to slip through the cracks.

The probationary period would also be extended for sex offenders sent to the Jimmy Ryce facility. Law makers are proposing a lifetime of state supervision for individuals convicted of sex crimes, meaning the probationary period would, in theory, be ongoing. In Sheriff John Rutherford’s words, “They will no longer be able to come back to a community without community supervision”.

It is important to remember that not everyone who is convicted of a sex crime is necessarily a child molester. People convicted of sexual harassment, prostitution and engaging in obscene content activities, such as sexting and illegally downloading internet porn are also considered sex offenders. There is no word yet as to whether the severity of the sexual charge will determine the state’s right to ongoing surveillance. It is also noteworthy to mention that 60% of sex offenders who repeat crimes do so in a supervised community.