Nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford was taken from her bedroom in Citrus County sometime during the night of February 23, 2005. She is believed to have been sexually assaulted and buried alive a few days later. She died of asphyxiation, according to the medical examiner’s report.
John Evander Couey, who was charged March 21, 2005 with her murder, was also charged with burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age. He is a convicted sex offender with a long criminal history. He was also a neighbor of Jessica’s. He was on county probation at the time of the murder. He currently faces the death penalty.
The Florida Legislature responded to this crime by enhancing penalties for sexual crimes against children through the Jessica Lunsford Act (JLA), which took effect September 1, 2005. The JLA requires:
The Act was implemented in three phases.
Community Corrections created a special unit of sexual supervision experts to supervise offenders meeting the JLA criteria with the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) electronic monitoring condition imposed. Training was provided to this Sexual Offender Alert Field Enforcement (SAFE) Special Operations Unit, emphasizing statutory revisions, as well as enhanced interagency communication with other criminal justice entities, including the courts, law enforcement, and state attorneys’ offices. Additionally, the department began assisting FDLE in notifying sexual offenders and predators of re-registration requirements, which require sexual offenders and predators to report in person twice yearly (birth month and 6 months after) to the county sheriff’s office to provide address and other information provided in s. 943.0435(14)(a), s. 944.607(13)(a), and s. 775.21(8)(a), F.S.
Community Corrections staff worked in conjunction with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to develop a graduated risk assessment to identify high risk sex offenders. The system is based on criteria provided in s. 948.061(1), F.S. including sex offenders with a history of supervision violations or incarcerations with other risk factors that could make the offender more likely to pose a danger to others.
Community Corrections and OIT staff worked together to make the electronic transmission of high risk sex offender (HRSO) information to the CJNET possible. In preparation for this requirement, the department and FDLE partnered to reconcile and share agency data for better and more accurate identification of offenders. This required working closely with local law enforcement agencies to re-print offenders for accurate identification. The Department provides a cumulative chronology of HRSO’s prior terms of supervision and violations, as required in s. 948.061(2), F.S. The Department provides this information, which includes offenders’ addresses and photos, to the court through FDLE’s Criminal Justice Network (CJNET). By allowing judges to review the information at first appearances and subsequent hearings, it assists judges in making informed decisions regarding bond or sentencing.
Community Corrections and FDLE also partnered to implement notifications of offender contact with law enforcement via Florida Administrative Messages (FAM’s). The FAM’s are generated to the supervising officer when an offender on supervision is fingerprinted in Florida, including an arrest, registration, re-registration, and movement within jail facilities. On March 1, 2006, FDLE began sending FAM’s on high risk sex offenders and six months later (on September 2, 2006), FDLE began sending FAM’s on the entire supervised offender population.
On October 1, 2006, Community Corrections and OIT staff worked in partnership with FDLE to implement the biometric identification (Rapid ID) system, which identifies offenders received for supervision as provided in s. 948.061(3), F.S. Probation officers have received Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and Rapid ID training to help identify offenders by using fingerprint-reading equipment during the intake process, transfers within Florida, and any other occasion which requires offender identification.