FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 2003
TDD (202) 514-1888
The “PROTECT Act of 2003” is an historic milestone for our nation's children. The Justice Department will dedicate the full force of our nation’s resources against those who victimize our nation’s youth. Important coordinated law enforcement information, fast law enforcement response, and swift and sure penalties can work to protect our children. The PROTECT Act comprehensively strengthens law enforcement’s ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violent crimes committed against children.
Problem #1: Law Enforcement Had Inadequate Tools to Help Locate Missing Children and Prosecute Offenders.
Solution #1: The Act Establishes the AMBER Alert Program, and Provides Significant New Investigative Tools. AMBER Alert programs are a proven tool to help recover abducted children.
·Establishing a national AMBER Alert Program. Building on the steps already taken by the Bush Administration to support AMBER Alert programs, this bill allows for national coordination of state and local AMBER Alert programs, including the appointment of a national AMBER Alert Coordinator and the development of guidance for issuance and dissemination of AMBER Alerts.
.On October 2, 2002, the Attorney General designated Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Deborah Daniels to serve as coordinator.
·Support for state AMBER programs. The bill provides $25 million in FY 2004 for states to support AMBER Alert communication systems and plans.
·Enhanced tools to protect children:
.This bill allows law enforcement to use existing legal tools for the full range of serious sexual crimes against children. Under prior law, wiretaps are authorized for a range of crimes, but not for many of the various crimes associated with using the internet to lure children for purposes of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
.This bill makes clear there is no statute of limitations for crimes involving the abduction or physical or sexual abuse of a child, in virtually all cases. Under previous law, the statute of limitations expired when the child turned 25, potentially allowing child rapists to go free if law enforcement could not solve the crime in time.
.Under current law, defendants who commit crimes against children are often released on bail. The bill makes it more difficult for defendants accused of serious crimes against children to obtain bail. This is similar to other existing provisions for some drug, firearms, and violent crimes.
.The bill strengthens laws punishing offenders who travel abroad to prey on children (“sex tourism”).
·AMBER Alert system galvanizes entire communities to assist law enforcement in the time-sensitive search for and safe return of child victims, and there is no doubt the AMBER Alert system saves lives:
.AMBER alerts have already recovered over 50 children.
·The Justice Department is quickly implementing AMBER Alerts nationwide:
.89 AMBER plans are already in effect throughout the country.
.41 programs exist statewide.
.The Justice Department has a National Amber Alert Coordinator who has been working since last year to develop a seamless nationwide child protection system in EVERY state.
.The Justice Department mailed a report in March to all 50 Governors detailing steps to create statewide AMBER programs.
Problem #2: Federal Law Did Not Ensure Adequate or Consistent Punishment for Those Who Committed Crimes Against Children.
Solution #2: The PROTECT Act Provides Appropriately Severe Penalties for Those Who Would Harm Children.
·Increased penalties for non-family member child abduction: the minimum prison sentence is now 20 years.
·Increased penalties for sexual exploitation of children and child pornography: a first offense of using a child to produce child pornography is now 15 to 30 years.
·“Two Strikes” provision that requires life imprisonment for offenders who commit two serious sexual abuse offenses against a child.
·Provisions to address the rates of “downward departures” - when judges sentence criminal defendants to less time in jail than the Sentencing Guidelines state.
.For years, downward departures in child pornography possession cases have ranged between 25% and 29% nationwide.
§One judge, for example, granted a 50% downward departure to a 5'11", 190-lb. child pornography defendant - who had accessed over 1,300 child pornography pictures and begun an Internet correspondence with a 15-year-old girl in another state - in part due to his concern that the defendant would be “unusually susceptible to abuse in prison.” United States v. Parish, 308 F.3d 1025 (9th Cir. 2002) (rejecting Government’s appeal and affirming the sentence).
.The bill provides the judiciary with less authority to give reduced prison sentences, by eliminating much-abused grounds of departure such as “diminished capacity,” aberrant behavior,” and “family and community ties.”
§In one recent child pornography case, a judge departed downward in part on the ground that the defendant had a “diminished capacity” due to the fact that he “was extremely addicted to child pornography.” The bill ensures that pedophiles will not be able to get reduced sentences just because they are pedophiles.
•Prior to this Act, the length of post-release supervision of sex offenders was capped at five years, which is plainly inadequate in light of the high rate of recidivism for such offenders. The Act would allow a term of supervised release of any terms of years or for life.
Problem #3: Past Legal Obstacles Have Made Prosecuting Child Pornography Cases Very Difficult. Last year, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a federal law that criminalized the possession of “virtual” child pornography, i.e., materials whose production may not have involved the use of real children. This decision has made it immeasurably more difficult to eliminate the traffic in real child pornography.
·Child pornography takes place largely over the internet, so most of the child pornography cases that are brought involve computer files of images. Defendants now routinely seek to escape conviction by claiming that there is a “reasonable doubt” as to whether the computer image is that of a real child.
·As computer imaging advances, this problem will worsen. Some experts already claim that it is impossible to tell whether a particular image was made using a real child. Future prosecutions will become battles of experts that will confuse juries and harm our ability to protect our nation’s children.
Solution #3: Strengthen the Laws Against Child Pornography in Ways that Can Survive Constitutional Review. Among other provisions, the bill will:
·Revise and strengthen the prohibition on ‘virtual’ child pornography.
·Prohibit any obscene materials that depict children, and provided tougher penalties compared to existing obscenity law.
·Encourage greater voluntary reporting of suspected child pornography found by internet service providers on their systems.