Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd December 9, 2020

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   New laws strengthen penalties against child sex offenders – Public Chapter 588 was passed this year strengthening Tennessee’s statutes against the “worst of the worst” child sex offenders. Previously, sex offenders could be charged with aggravated rape of a child if their victim was zero to three years old.  Beginning July 1, the new law raised that age range to zero to eight years old.

   Under recent legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2019, aggravated rape of a child is a Class A felony offense which is automatically punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.   Increasing the age range from zero to three to zero to eight, helps ensure more of these offenders are taken off the streets.

   Legislation to end judicial diversion for continuous child sexual abusers passes – Public Chapter 741 was adopted this year which adds continuous sexual abuse of a child to the list of offenses which are not eligible for judicial diversion. Judicial diversion allows a charge to be diverted for an agreed upon amount of time once the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to conditions given by the judge.

   Continuous sexual abuse of a child is a serious felony offense that occurs when a person engages in multiple acts of child sexual abuse. Under the Tennessee statute, this offense may occur in a few different situations. This includes engaging in three or more incidents of child sex abuse involving the same minor on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. The offense may also be charged for one incident of sexual abuse with at least three children on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. Some examples are cases that involve victims related to the defendant by blood or marriage, or a defendant who is considered an authority figure, such as a parent, teacher, priest, or child care provider. The legislation ensures no judicial diversion can be considered by the courts for this serious crime.

   New law bans judicial diversion for offenders convicted of promoting or patronizing prostitution of a minor or a person with an intellectual disability – The General Assembly passed legislation this year ensuring that offenders who are guilty of patronizing prostitution from a minor or promoting the prostitution of a minor are not eligible for judicial diversion. Public Chapter 607 adds the offense of promoting prostitution of a minor and patronizing prostitution from a person younger than 18 years of age or who has an intellectual disability to the list of sexual offenses that do not qualify. 

   Under current law, patronizing prostitution is a Class A misdemeanor. Patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years of age or who has an intellectual disability, however, is punishable as a trafficking for a commercial sex act. While the offense is punishable as a Class A felony, it can still be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. This means the offender would still be eligible for judicial diversion. The legislation ensures that those who victimize Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens will not be eligible for judicial diversion.   

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.