Scarlet Letter Laws Are A Bad Idea
This is what I mean by scarlet letter laws:
A judge could order a sex offender to buy a distinctive license plate for his or her vehicle, under a bill proposed by state Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill.
The law could affect motor vehicle owners convicted after Jan. 1 of a sex crime against a child 11 or younger.
“Child molestation is a sickness, and I don’t know that it’s curable. I just think we need to be aware as we can of who these individuals are,” said Keahey, 26, a lawyer serving his first term in the House of Representatives.
“I think it’ll reduce or maybe even prevent these child molesters from driving through neighborhoods where our children are out in the yard playing,” he said.
No, it won’t. These folks will still drive to all the same places they would have driven absent the tag. But the presence of the tag will have some seriously bad collateral consequences.
First, can you say “vigilantism?” How many of these cars are going to be vandalised? How many drivers will be beaten? What about the homes where the cars are parked? Indeed, Keahey sounds like he’s counting on fears of these kinds of attacks preventing the offenders from driving in certain areas. What, other than fear of vigilantes, would prevent the driver from going into specific areas?
Second, and before you conclude that the offender deserves whatever the vigilantes dish out:
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he doubts Keahey’s bill will pass this year.
He said it wouldn’t be fair for the wife, child or other family member of a sex offender to have to drive a vehicle with a sex-offender license plate on it if the sex offender owned the family vehicle.
“If it’s a family car and there’s another driver of that vehicle, I think that unfairly points to them,” Black said.
The threat of harm extends to innocent drivers. And not just other drivers, but what if the sex offender uses the car to drop his kids off at school? How do you think little Billy is going to do in school with all the other kids making fun of him because his dad is a child rapist?
Third, and finally, how about the effect on the neighbors’ property values? Good luck trying to sell your home with a car parked in your neighbor’s driveway that is in essence a big ‘ol sign saying “child molester lives here!”
No thanks. The costs of this idea far outweigh whatever speculative benefit it might provide.