Senate Passes Ava’s Law to Strengthen Legal Penalty for Child Abuse

By Tom Whatley


 MONTGOMERY, Ala. – On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate passed legislation by Senator Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) to strengthen the criminal penalty for aggravated abuse of a child. Under Ava’s Law, a person can be charged with murder if they commit aggravated child abuse that results in a child’s death.

Under current Alabama legal code, aggravated child abuse that leads to the unintentional death of a child is limited to prosecution as manslaughter, the maximum punishment for which is twenty years in prison.

“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. “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 is named after Ava Zapata, a four-year old girl from Lee County who died in May 2012 after being abused and killed by her mother’s boyfriend.

“I am so grateful to Senator Whatley and District Attorney Robbie Treese for their work on this legislation,” remarked Jessica Ventiere, Asst. District Attorney for Lee County. “Ava’s Law bridges the gap between capital murder and manslaughter. 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.”

Senator Tom Whatley represents District 27 in the Alabama Senate, which includes all or parts of Tallapoosa, Lee, and Russell counties. Follow him on Twitter for the latest legislative updates @SenTomWhatley