tampabay.com

One year later

By DAVID BALLINGRUD AND JIM ROSS
Published February 24, 2006


THE SUSPECT: Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for John Couey, 47. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and related charges. A trial is tentatively set for July. Couey is being held at the Citrus County jail.

THE SCHOOL SYSTEM: The Jessica Lunsford Act established background check requirements for people with access to school campuses. Couey, a convicted sex offender, worked construction at Jessica's school, Homosassa Elementary, although there was no indication he had contact with Jessica on campus.

During its upcoming session, the Legislature will consider some changes to the act, such as defining moral turpitude, exempting workers who have incidental contact with children from the fingerprinting requirement, capping the costs of background checks at $61 and requiring a statewide database to avoid duplicate screenings.

STATE LAW: Sex offenders generally have the strictest conditions of probation supervision, including limitations on where they live, visit and work. They must comply with registration requirements and submit to unannounced searches of their homes and computers.

The state Department of Corrections has adopted a "no tolerance" attitude toward probation violations, but a bigger change came when the Jessica Lunsford Act went into effect last September. The law:

Increases penalties for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child younger than 12 to either life in prison or a minimum mandatory 25-year prison term, followed by lifelong electronic monitoring. Violations of probation in existing cases can also prompt monitoring.

Requires sexual predators to wait 30 years, instead of 20, after finishing probation to petition to remove their predator designation.

Increases reporting requirements for offenders and predators.

Allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty for a sexual predator convicted of murder.

Requires all county misdemeanor probation officials to check the state's sex offender registry for each probationer assigned to them. Couey's probation officer didn't know he was a registered sex offender.

More detailed information about the act can be found at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Web site: http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/

FEDERAL LAW: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Children's Safety Act. It awaits action in the Senate.