NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s not uncommon to see people charged with sex crimes against children offered a plea deal.
Prosecutors said it’s not because they feel the person isn’t guilty but because the court process is complicated.
“It’s not that the punishment isn’t harsh enough. We’re just struggling to get the person convicted of that crime,” said Jennifer Mason, Assistant District Attorney for 21st District.
Mason covers crimes in Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. She explained there are hurdles in prosecuting these types of cases. She claimed popular crime TV shows have complicated the process.
“The jury comes in with this preconceived notion that they’re going to see all of this evidence, and 90% of the time, it’s just the child telling you what happened.” Mason continued, “If he, or she, whoever’s been charged, has had a conviction for this in the past, the jury doesn’t get to hear about that. If there are multiple victims, and they’re not combined in one case, the jury doesn’t get to hear about that. They only get to hear about the crime in front of them.”
In Tennessee everyone accused of crime has the right to face their accuser, despite the age.
“We allow the forensic interview to be played in lieu of the child’s testimony, if the child is under the age of 12 when they gave the interview.” Mason added, “However, the child still has to come to court, still has to testify that that is them in the video, that they were being truthful, and they’re still subject to cross-examination.”
Mason explained children who want to speak out often have a difficult time overcoming this step.
“When I walk them through the courtroom and explain this is where you’ll sit, this is where the perpetrator or the person you’re accusing will sit, they just lose it,” she said.
Some children emotionally cannot handle the re-victimization, and families often decide a plea deal is healthiest.
“As prosecutors, we are constantly trying to find that balance of what is in the best interest of this particular child, and what is in the best interest of society. And sometimes, what we do in the best interest of the child doesn’t necessarily register with society,” said Mason.
In these instances, Mason said social media forums typically erupt with ridicule. “This is a disgrace. Why did this happen? This person deserves so much more. And you’re absolutely right. There’s not a harsh enough punishment for what these people do. But, it cannot be at the expense of our child.”
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Modifying the court process is also a delicate dance. “You can’t take away too many safeguards for the defendant, because then we’re losing what makes our system so great.”
People in positions of authority are preying on Tennessee children. News 2 investigates the disturbing trend and shares important information that parents need to know in our special reports Position of Authority.