The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Zsemlye Faces Life Sentence For Groping Fully Clothed Child

It’s always interesting to poll the pulse of the community in the wake of a sex-offense against a child. News of an accused child-groper in Orange County hit the press earlier this week, and as always, the responses were colorful.

The alleged assailant, Frank Zsemlye, 27, reportedly followed a 13-year-old girl and her 7-year-old sister into a public park bathroom. He then forced the older child into a stall and groped her through her clothing. After she screamed, he released her and tried to flee. Bystanders chased him down and the police took him into custody, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Pretty gross, right? There aren’t adjectives strong enough to describe how despicable such an act is.

The commenters at the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times seem to want the perpetrator dead, imprisoned for life, and/or castrated. A little harsh, no?

According to the Times, the Orange County District Attorney is granting some the readers their wish and pressing for a life sentence.

For lawmakers and law enforcement, finding an appropriate punishment is a tough balance. They have to weigh the gravity of the offense and the likelihood of a repeat offense against a main principle of justice, the principle that the punishment should fit the crime.

The problem in child abuse cases has to do with the impossible task of predicting recidivism. Common belief is that sex offenders are more likely to do it again once released. The opposite is true. According to a study in the Wall Street Journal, sex offenders, in general, may actually have a lower rate of recidivism than the average criminal. Child molesters’ rate of recidivism seems to be equally low.

While groping a child through her clothing is despicable, disgusting, and deserves a harsh sentence, is a life sentence for a first-time offender appropriate? If we hit first-time gropers with the ultimate punishment allowable by law, (the death penalty is unconstitutional, unless there was a dead victim) what’s left for the repeat offenders and the child rapists?


Image Courtesy of the OC District Attorney and the Los Angeles Times

Besides, take a close look at that man’s mug shot. Just from that photo, the odds seem to be in favor of civil commitment, not a life sentence in prison.

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