Senate GOP bill may not end probation for child sex predators in Minnesota

A bipartisan bill in the House, HF 229, would instead copy federal law, which carries mandatory minimums.

Moose Lake Correctional Facility/Minnesota Department of Corrections

Alpha News has previously reported on the state’s lax penalties for child predators. Contact or in-person offenders where the victim is a child under the age of 13 receive probation at least 50% of the time. Predators trading in violent and sadistic child sexual abuse imagery— where it is routine for these predators’ “collections” to depict the rape and torture of prepubescent children — receive probation over 80% of the time.

Up until early 2021, Minnesota even presumed probation for production crimes involving children under the age of 13, and data show that over the last five years about 75% of predators in this category received probation (some local jail time, but no prison time).

Alpha News has also reported on how these predators trading in child abuse imagery are often contact offenders — one study says that over 50% are actively abusing a child.

A 2019 bill, sponsored by Senate Republican leadership, didn’t directly address the issue of Minnesota’s use of probation to punish these crimes. That bill asked the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) to examine the issue, as reported on and analyzed by Alpha News earlier this month.

Minnesota most lax in the country?

The MSGC report admitted that Minnesota is the only state — compared to the states MSGC compared against and possibly compared to the entire nation — to presume probation when a predator is caught possessing and trading in child sexual abuse imagery. The MSGC also showed that Minnesota has far lower convictions per capita, and when a conviction does occur the state opts to charge for possession instead of dissemination by a wide margin compared to other states (usually charges of possession and dissemination are both available to prosecutors but possession carries a lighter sentence). However, the MSGC, by a slim majority, refused to stop presuming probation for possession and trading of these materials.

To excuse the status quo, the MSGC relied heavily on a study that says the recidivism rate is low for “internet offenders.” Yet even the authors of the study cast doubt on their conclusions, because the study only measured offenders who were caught again. This also ignores other studies which say that over 50% of predators “collecting” these materials are contact offenders and are an active threat to children.

SF 1457 raises penalties

Because of the MSGC’s inaction, Republican Sens. Warren Limmer and Mary Kiffmeyer authored SF 1457. As previously reported, this bill passed the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on March 8 by a vote of 7-2, with two DFL Senators voting against it.

There are three different crimes for child sexual abuse imagery: production, dissemination, and possession. The MSGC just raised the presumptive sentence for production to prison time — if the predator is a repeat offender or if the victim is 12 or under.

SF 1457 would raise the penalty for the crime of dissemination, if the victim is 12 or under or if the predator is a repeat offender, to prison time. It would also raise the penalty for enhanced possession, if the victims in the material are under age 13, though the presumption for possession would remain some form of probation.

SF 1457 may not change the overall use of probation

Still, SF 1457 may not change the state’s overall use of probation for child sex abuse imagery involving prepubescent victims and, in a large minority of cases, infants and toddlers.

According to the MSGC, over the last five years Minnesota gave probation instead of prison to predators on about 85% of convictions for possession of child sexual abuse imagery, and 75% of convictions for dissemination of child sexual abuse imagery. Overall, there were 427 convictions for possession and only 32 convictions for dissemination. Minnesota overwhelmingly chooses to charge possession instead of dissemination (dissemination is a greater crime than possession). For comparison, Oregon charged possession 92 times and dissemination (distribution) 260 times.

If SF 1457 passes, the predators convicted of dissemination, but given only probation, should drop sharply. Yet, looking five years back shows that this would impact only a handful of cases. The percentage of predators given prison out of the 427 convicted of possession would not change, even if they are convicted of enhanced possession crimes —which involve predators with “collections” of infant and toddler rape videos and images.

Overall, if the last five years are a guide going forward, Minnesota will continue to give the vast majority of predators probation, and will remain one of the last in the nation (if not the last) in terms of child protection.

Proponents of SF 1457 might say that with the higher penalty for dissemination, Minnesota prosecutors will begin to charge more for dissemination instead of possession, but that asks the public to wait another five years to see if the problem is corrected. There is also the prospect that SF 1457’s authors believe it is the only bill that could pass the DFL-controlled House.

A bipartisan bill in the House, HF 229, would instead copy federal law, which carries mandatory minimums. This bill, authored by two members with law enforcement experience, has not been allowed a hearing by the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee Chair Carlos Mariani, and has been ignored by Senate GOP leaders, who are intent on passing SF 1457 instead and appear to deem HF 229 too radical an approach.