On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate passed “Ava’s Law,” a bill brought forth by Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) which strengthens penalties for aggravated child abuse. The bill makes it possible to charge offenders with murder if aggravated child abuse leads to the death of a child.
Currently, perpetrators of aggravated child abuse, which leads to the unintentional death of a child, can only be prosecuted on manslaughter charges, the punishment for which is 20 years in prison. This legislation will allow prosecutors to seek stiffer charges for offenders.
The bill is named for Ava Zapata, a 4-year-old Lee County girl who died in May 2012 as a result of the abuse levied upon her by her mother’s boyfriend.
“This closes a loophole in the law and gives our district attorneys the authority they need to fully prosecute people who abuse children so violently a child dies,” Whatley said in a news release. “If an innocent person is unintentionally killed during the course of a robbery, that death can be prosecuted as murder. Under Ava’s Law, child abuse that leads to a death could also be prosecuted as a murder.”
“Ava’s Law bridges the gap between capital murder and manslaughter,” said Assistant District Attorney for Lee County Jessica Ventiere, who was involved in the trial of Ava’s murderer and testified before earlier committees hearing the bill. “It offers an option stronger than manslaughter when the evidence shows an intent to abuse but not necessarily the specific intent to kill, which is required to prove capital murder. Aggravated child abuse is a cruel and intentional act that deserves to be set apart from the recklessness of manslaughter. This law will establish a penalty appropriate for the crime.”
The legislation will now go before the House of Representatives where it will likely be taken up next week.