What Is Chelsea's Law?

Chelsea's Law was passed to assure that "the circumstances which led to the...death of Chelsea King can never be repeated....” Supporters want it extended to every state. Is this good legislation?

This is the third in a series of informational and
educational releases sponsored by RSOL—Reform
Sex Offender Laws, Inc.
For information or questions, contact the RSOL             Communications Committee through the website or at 202.709.3890

First in series:  "A New Year"

Second in series: "What Are Sex Offenders?"


How It Began: Who Is John Albert Gardner? 

 John Albert Gardner is an inmate in the California prison system for the rest of his life. This is a timeline of the salient points, beginning in 2000 when he was 21 years old.

  • 2000 convicted of child molestation; sentenced to 8 years
  • 2005 released on parole
  • 2008 completed parole
  • 2009 Feb. Amber Dubois, 14, disappeared
  • 2010 Feb. 25 Chelsea King, 17, disappeared     
  •      Feb. 28 Gardner arrested in disappearance of Chelsea    
  •      March 2 Chelsea's body found     
  •      March 6 Amber's body found  
  •      April 16 Gardner entered guilty pleas to both murders    
  •      May 14 sentenced to two life sentences with no parole possibility
  •      Sept. 9 Chelsea's Law signed into CA law by governor     


What Is Chelsea’s Law?     

"Chelsea's Law allows life without parole sentences for adult predators who kidnap, drug, bind, torture or use a weapon while committing a sex crime against a child. Life terms could be ordered for first-time and repeat offenders. It also increases other penalties for child molesters, including requiring lifetime parole with GPS tracking for people convicted of forcible sex crimes against children under 14."  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/09/chelseas-law-signed-by-sc_n_711115.html)

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have a major flaw; as other offenses that may not rise to the same level of seriousness are added to the qualifying offenses, as they historically have been, a court has no power to use its discretion in meting out a different sentence; mandatory minimums remove all sentencing power from judges.

What Have Been the Results of Chelsea’s Law?

Chelsea’s Shield, a non-profit organization formed by Chelsea’s father, Brian King, to lobby for expansion of Chelsea’s Law into other states, has shared this in a report:

“They released a report on the impact of Chelsea's Law. The study found that between September 2011 and August 2012, 22 defendants were charged under provisions of Chelsea's Law in San Diego County. The eight cases that have been resolved resulted in longer prison sentences than there would be have been before the law was enacted, the report said.”  (http://www.10news.com/news/chelseas-law-may-expand-to-other-states-030113)

Chelsea’s Light Foundation, another organization formed by the King family and CA legislator Nathan Fletcher, shows more defendants charged under the law but does not speak to any actual sentences.

The studies have concluded the law's initial impact as positive, with a total of 41 individuals in San Diego County charged under Chelsea’s Law between September 2010 and September 2012, and 33 individuals in Orange County charged since September 2011.” (http://scoopsandiego.com/news/local/chelsea-s-law-introduced-in-texas-and-illinois/article_229f6470-828a-11e2-88e4-0019bb30f31a.html)

What Do These Results Mean?

Using the information available, the summary is this: in the two years since Chelsea’s Law was signed into law, 74 individuals have been charged under the law, and 8 individuals have had their sentences impacted due to it.

What Has Been the Impact on Public Safety?

When then-governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill, he said, “Because of Chelsea, this never has to happen again." Has it never happened again? Have no other children or teens in CA been abducted and murdered by repeat sexual offenders since Sept. 9, 2010? Since this is such an extremely rare occurrence, it is quite possible that it hasn’t. According to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Crimes Against Children Spotlight, August 2011, in cases of children or teens taken and sexually assaulted and/or murdered, “… less than 1 percent of the abductors were RSOs [registered sex offenders.]”

Chelsea’s Light Foundation included this in their recent release: “In California, the circumstances which lead [sic] to the tragic death of Chelsea King can never be repeated as a result of [Chelsea’s Law].” The fact is, had Chelsea’s Law been in effect before John Gardner murdered Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, it would not had saved them. Prior to his killing spree, his sexual offense had none of the elements that fall under Chelsea’s Law scrutiny. He would not have been still in prison or being monitored.

Shouldn’t Those Who Commit Heinous Crimes Be Severely Punished?

Of course they should. The real questions are: will this law actually save even one child, and will this law continue to target only those now stated or will it, as versions of it are suggesting, cast its net over a much broader scope and larger scale? (http://www.stopchildpredators.org/legislation/model.htm)

Is Expanding Chelsea’s Law to Other States Good Legislation?

The states first being targeted are Texas and Illinois with Utah, Ohio, and Massachusetts soon to follow. Brent King has said, “I want to protect every child in every state….” Nathan Fletcher has said the legislation will target "the worst of the worst" offenders. Will this legislation, targeting the “worst of the worst,” protect “every child in every state”?

The problem with targeting the "worst of the worst" and focusing so intensely on them, even if all versions of the bill stayed within those parameters, is that huge amounts of resources are expended addressing the tiniest fraction of those who sexually harm children, leaving nothing with which to address the far greater issue of child molestation at the hands of those in their lives who have no previous conviction for a sexual crime. All laws currently in place already do what extending "Chelsea's Law" will do; they ignore the plight of untold thousands of children who are molested by those they know and trust, and they do little to nothing to protect even one. Does any state need another law that will do more of the same?


RSOL promotes the elimination of sexual abuse and the preservation of civil rights for all individuals through the use of effective legislation based on empirical research. We envision sexual offense laws based on equal justice and respect for the dignity of all people, protection from retroactively applied punishment, and the establishment of fact-based laws and policies that protect our communities.



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Jay Whitmire March 13, 2013 at 02:48 PM
You can't claim to be for victims when you spend all the money on punishments that do not actually help or prevent victims. I'll believe that legislators are pro-victim when they propose legislation that is mainly concerned with helping victims and preventing new ones instead of the "drop in the ocean" measures they keep coming up with.
skeptic March 14, 2013 at 12:22 PM
The best way to help victims who have already been victimized is to severly punish the scum that made them victims and to make sure they dont victimize anyone else. Maybe most of new victims arent due to repeat offenders but if they are all kept locked up, none will be. Letting Gardner out to do what he did was a major screw up.
Jay Whitmire March 14, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Helping victims should be #1. Punishing or punishing more severely has no direct affect on the victim. Sure there are predators that need to be locked away. However, Chelsea's law does not accomplish that. Instead it re-victimizes those who have already been victimized. Why? Because Chelsea's Law and others like it poor billions of dollars into laws that do not help a single victim. That money, instead needs to be poured into victim's assistance to get them the best support possible. We have a choice, we can spend billions on laws that have already been shown to be useless, or we can spend millions on helping victims AND preventing new ones. The judge is the result. Education and prevention programs work. Support for the entire family works. It's immoral to continue to repeat the same decisions that we know don't work, and not take actions we know do work. It's always about victims. When these laws spend 99% of their efforts on victims, then we'll be there. Keep in mind, in many cases, the perpetrator is a father, mother, or sibling. When the child knows there is a severe penalty, they are less likely to report abuse. These laws actually help continue abuse that would otherwise be reported.
skeptic March 14, 2013 at 12:47 PM
You think that makes it better? It makes it worse that they are being abused by parents or people they love. The kids need to be gotten out of that family and never have to see the people who abuse them again. When you talk about getting the family help, the only help they need is into prison for what they did and allowed to happen. There is no excuse. The only help should be for the victims, not for the family so they can keep the kids; theyll just keep on doing it.
Jay Whitmire March 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM
That sounds great, but it's only meant to make the rest of us feel better. Let's say a sister plays doctor with her younger brother. She's now a sex offender for life. Little brother tells as he should. Sister is removed from the home and never seen again. Do you think the brother is going to feel awesome? He's going to feel super guilty for what he sees as his fault for his sister being ripped out of his family. His therapy just got 1000 times worse. The recommended action is to treat the entire family to discover the circumstance and environment that lead to the offense. Family stays together and becomes a more functional unit. Everyone healthier in the long run. Impossible you say? 36% of the people on the registry are under 18. A lot for romeo-juliet highschool romances, a lot for playing "doctor". The youngest I've heard of is a 7 year old boy who is now a registered sex offender for life because he was playing doctor with a younger playmate. Life! Recently in the news was a 10 year old who murdered a baby. That kid will have that murder expunged at 18. Now I'm sure you're talking about people who are "predators". People who set out to harm children for their own benefits. Yes, those people need to be removed from society. However, we can't spend $30k/year on them and not spend a dime on victims treatment and therapy. It's not right. A large percentage of sex offenders in prison are low risk. That money is best spent elsewhere.


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