SALT LAKE CITY — How much time do child sex offenders really spend behind bars? As a KSL Investigation uncovered, maybe not as much as you'd think.
Among hundreds of comments KSL received about the story, were concerns about a new bill currently in discussion on Utah's Capitol Hill that could make that time even less.
State Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is sponsoring House Bill 222. Currently, a person convicted of 'rape of a child,' 'object rape of a child,' or 'sodomy on a child' automatically gets 25 years to life in prison. No exceptions. But Handy says there should be.
"You talk to most lawyers, and they just don't like these minimum mandatory sentences because these circumstances are so different," Handy said. "One size doesn't fit all."
Handy points to one case, in particular, involving 18-year-old Jace Warwood and two young girls.
"I was contacted by a constituent about a situation that involved her son who'd had a meetup with two young girls," said Handy. "They were underage. They were 13. There was an incident. There were things that happened."
Police say Warwood met one of the girls on Facebook and later met up with the girl and her friend in person. According to court documents, Warwood had sex with one of the girls. He now faces several charges including rape of a child. Warwood hasn't been convicted of rape, but if he is, he would spend at least 25 years in prison.
"Is an 18-year-old the same as a 45-year-old predator? Now there are 18-year-old predators too, but not in this case," Handy said. "It was a kid who made a very bad mistake, but we shouldn't ruin his life over it."
H.B. 222 would get rid of the '25 to life' minimum mandatory sentence. Instead, a judge could choose a lighter sentence, as low as six years to life in prison, for rape or sodomy involving a child.
As a KSL Investigation uncovered, sex offenders are typically serving time on the lower end of their sentence. That doesn't sit well with sex abuse victims like Deondra Brown. She is one-fifth of "The 5 Browns," a well-known sibling ensemble from Utah who tour the world performing on five pianos.
Brown and her two sisters were sexually abused by their father when they were children. They're now vocal victim advocates. "After we started speaking out publicly about it, we realized how many people are affected by sexual abuse," said Brown.
Among other charges her father, Keith Brown, was convicted of 'sodomy on a child.' He was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. It's a charge that today would get him 25 years to life.
"A lot of people ask us, why is your father only in prison for 10 years to life? And we say, 'It's because in the 90s when these crimes took place, that was the sentence.' But we've come a long ways since the 90s," Brown said. "Laws have been passed since then to protect victims in such a way, and I just wonder why we would want to go backward."
Brown is speaking out against H.B. 222, saying it takes a shotgun approach to deal with a very narrow case. She fears that victims of sex abuse will be collateral damage. "What we're concerned about is that people will capitalize on this passing and will try to find other circumstances where perpetrators can fall into this scenario," Brown said.
H.B. 222 has been heard in committee but has not been voted on yet.