Holden signs crime package affecting child porn penalties

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

CREVE COEUR, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden on Monday signed a legislative crime package that extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, strengthens penalties for child pornography and outlaws cross burning, among other things.

Holden was joined by dozens of state legislators and law enforcement officers at a bill-signing ceremony at the Creve Coeur Government Center in this St. Louis suburb. He called it a "very aggressive package" that was reached in a bipartisan way.

The crime bills signed by Holden sharply increase penalties for possession of child pornography and other sex offenses involving minors. They expand the list of crimes requiring a convicted sex offender to register and get tougher on those who fail to do so. The bills also require offenders to complete a treatment program.

Another provision prohibits anyone convicted of incest, possession of child pornography or other sexual offenses involving minors from moving to within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility. Such individuals already living within that radius when the law takes effect Aug. 28 would have to register with their county sheriffs.

Another piece of the crime package, prompted in part by the clergy abuse scandal, gives child sexual abuse victims more time to pursue punishment for their abusers. Missouri joins California, Connecticut and Illinois in extending the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.

In cases of sexual abuse of a person 18 or younger, Missouri law had required that prosecution be started before the victim turns age 28. The law now extends that until the victim turns 38. And prosecutions for forcible rape or sodomy would face no time limit.

The new law also extends the maximum age when a childhood victim can sue for civil damages from the current age 23 to age 30, or three years after connection was established between the abuse and the injury, whichever comes later. The alleged acts for which people could pursue lawsuits would include rape, sodomy, sexual assault, sexual misconduct and incest.

"Today, we are making Missouri's communities safer for children and parents by strengthening our laws against sexual predators and increasing victim's rights," Holden said.

Another new law also allows judges to make criminals pay money into local law enforcement restitution funds. Courts may order offenders to pay restitution up to $300 per offense to support local law enforcement efforts, including policing of methamphetamine crimes.

Prohibiting cross burningHolden also signed a law explicitly prohibiting cross burning as a means of intimidation, putting Missouri in company with 14 other states and the District of Columbia.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said the necessity of his bill was proved by cross burning incidents in the Bootheel and in Howard County.

Under the bill, burning a cross to intimidate someone is punishable by a maximum one year in jail and $1,000 fine for a first offense. Repeat offenses will be a felony carrying up to four years in prison.

"For years, citizens had to live with this cowardly and vicious act," said Rep. Richard Byrd, R-Kirkwood. "This will make Missouri a little safer, a little more tolerant."

Another law signed by Holden makes it illegal for sexual predators to escape, a move prompted by a 2001 escape that highlighted an omission in state law.

Thomas Ingrassia, who had been committed as a sexual predator, allegedly cut a fence around a mental health facility in Farmington to escape in 2001. He was captured late last year in Florida, living under the assumed name of his half-brother.

Ingrassia had said in an interview he had researched state law while locked up and realized there was no specific provision against escape by sexual predators. The omission meant Ingrassia could only be charged with felony property damage for cutting the fence. A property damage conviction carries a penalty of up to four years in prison.

The law makes it a felony -- also punishable by up to four years in prison -- for someone civilly committed as a sexually violent predator to escape. The law has an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect immediately, instead of on Aug. 28.

Sponsoring Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said it was important for the legislation to become law as quickly as possible to ease concerns of residents around the mental health facility.

------Crime bills are HBs 1055, 1074 and 1215.

On the Net:

Governor: http://www.gov.state.mo.us

Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

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