Thursday, May 18, 2006

Counterfeit license... counterfeit citizen?

Some states have considered visibly marking sex offenders' driver's licenses. The negative effects of this could be significant.

First, consider the positive effects of marking licenses: ...oops, there are none. There is no increase in public safety. Consider the really few cases where the driver's license ever gets displayed to someone: making an airplane trip, cashing a check, pulled over for a moving violation -- in none of these situations does identifying the license holder as a properly registered sex offender increase public safety.

If anything, it will decrease the public's safety by shaming the license holder. People forget that Megan's Law was upheld for the promise of increasing safety by identifying the registered sex offender to the neighborhood (that was, and remains, a somewhat false promise as noted before in this blog -- but that's not relevant here) and that the shaming aspect was at best a side effect.

But it's easy to play the bully when everyone hates the bullied, so the idea of public tagging, shaming laws, the scarlet letter, continues to arise and the driver's license is an obvious target.

Of course it will not take long for the properly registered sex offender to figure that tagging his license is really nothing more than a shaming law, an unfair life-long punishment imposed after the fact, sometimes years or decades after the fact, so he will feel perfectly justified in finding a way out of this unjust punishment. (Unjust? No matter what you or I think about it, he will think that way.)

There are a couple of legal measures that could be taken, but for various reasons probably will not. It turns out that there is a much less expensive solution, albeit illegal: obtain a fake driver's license.

Some television program showed just how easy it is to get a fake license. A hundred dollars or so, an hour or two, and you have a counterfeit driver's license.

Now the twist: All of the information on the counterfeit license including, if the aspiring-to-be-somewhat-less-than-properly registered sex offender desires, the license number can be copied from the real license. All the counterfeit lacks is the scarlet letter element.

Of course, once he has gotten this far the about-to-be-formerly registered sex offender will realize that in order to live a normal life he is going to have to break the law, and then why stop at a fake driver's license (with the real one kept on hand in case a cop asks for it) when one can purchase an entirely new identity, one completely unencumbered with the hassles of registration, notification, shaming laws, residence prohibitions, GPS shackles, etc.? Just dump the old identity and disappear; the counterfeiters who can provide the license can provide all the rest, too.

The end result of the shaming law will be criminals deliberately living outside the system, not in it, knowing what they have to lose if ever taken into custody.

Somebody please tell me, how does this make the public any safer?


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