Senate approves comprehensive crime bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has approved a comprehensive crime bill that includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail for anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

Backers of the mandatory provision say it’s needed to send a clear message that aggravated sexual assault is one of the worst crimes that a person can commit.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Senate gave its support to the legislation with very little debate.

The bill expands the number of special investigative units around the state, it increases penalties for a variety of sex crimes, it creates a commission to recommend appropriate sentencing options, and it expands the use of the sex offenders’ registry.

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears says the bill has two major goals : one is to address some of the needs of the state’s judicial system and the other is a desire to help make communities safer from violent crime:

(Sears) “This bill is really about balance in the criminal justice system. Anyone who thinks that this bill is just about mandatory minimums is totally taking the bill out of context. The bill does contain mandatory minimums. But it is also about prevention of child sexual abuse. It is also about the victims of child sexual abuse and helping those victims. It is also about the sentencing in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) The Judiciary committee had some of its most heated debate over the provision of the bill that imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

It’s an issue that was highlighted earlier in the session when Judge Edward Cashman handed down a controversial sentence in the case of a young girl who had been sexually assaulted over a period of years.

Sears says this is one crime that deserves a mandatory minimum sentence:

(Sears) “In my view it’s one of the most egregious crimes that anyone can commit. Listening to victims of this type of crime, listening to Vermonters who are concerned about sentences handed down for this type of egregious act, your committee through consensus has adopted in this bill a 10-year mandatory minimum term for aggravated sexual assault. So there’s no way out. You’re going to do 10 years. Let that message be clear.”

(Kinzel) When the House passed its comprehensive crime bill it chose not to include any mandatory minimum sentences in the legislation.

Now a House Senate conference committee will have to try to resolve the differences between the two chambers on this issue.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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