If One Registry, Why Not More?
More than 8,000 Mainers were arrested for drunken driving in 2009, the most recent statistics available, and Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, says Mainers should know who those drivers are.
“I want a website at [the Maine Department of] Public Safety that will have their names and addresses and their picture,” he said. “People need to know about drunk drivers that might be living next door and taking their kids to soccer practice.”
Cebra said his measure would establish the website so that Mainers could search their community to see if any neighbors are convicted drunken drivers, and whether they are multiple offenders. He said it would be similar to the state sex offender website but would not be a registry.
Blah, blah, blah. Do it for the children. After all, should the neighbor's know that they guy two houses down blew .08 BAC? You can be they won't lend him the riding mower any more. And Rep. Cebra's even figured out the perfect way to pay for it, since everything government does is very expensive.
“This would depend on the conviction information that is already being collected,” he said, “and I am proposing a $25 surcharge on every OUI conviction to pay for the website construction and operation.”
Thankfully, no one has figure out yet that if they impose a $10,000 surcharge on everyone convicted of drunk driving, they wouldn't have to lay off teachers. But I digress.
The proposal is hardly a surprise, as the fashion of returning to the stocks in the village commons, on top of whatever criminal penalties are imposed, offers vast opportunity for the enterprising politician. Toss in some child welfare argument and, no matter how tenuous the connection, it's usually good for re-election, at least for one term. Nothing to see here, folks.
But what disturbs me far more is where the support comes from for such headlong dives down slippery slopes. It's not MADD or SADD or BADD. We expect them to mindlessly support any initiative designed to penalize drunk driving. That's why they exist. No, they aren't the problem. This is the problem.
Regular readers know that I have long been troubled by the threats posed by drunk drivers and have long believed that communities ought to be as worried about drunk drivers as they are about sex offenders. I am generally agnostic concerning the use of any crime registries unless and until research effectively demonstrates that they foster public safety. But it seems to me that if they make sense for sex offenders then they also should make sense for drunk drivers.
These aren't the words of some political websites frequented by readers wearing tin foil hats. These are the words of lawprof Doug Berman.
There is nothing that better supports, better emboldens, political thought than academics and scholars. When it comes to sentencing, there is no scholar more persuasive than Douglas Berman. No matter what the penalty or harm to be imposed, Doug's backing can mean the difference between success and failure.
It's possible that this is just a throw-away comment, tossed out thoughtlessly and without the hard work of deliberation. Or it's possible that Doug Berman means exactly what he says, having given this subject intense scrutiny and purposefully offering his deepest thoughts on this subject for Cebra and any other politician looking to make a name for himself to use.
Having much respect for Doug's efforts, as well as his focus on a very narrow area of scholarship, however, his lack of distinction between sex offenders and drunk drivers, as well as his agnosticism, which in effect works out to support, toward crime registries, is shocking.
Does this suggest that a drunk driver is the same, or even remotely similar, to a sex offender? And I'm not talking about the absurdly overbroad inclusion of people convicted of public urination on registries, but the real, hard-core, out-of-control child molesters? It strikes me that neither the nature of the offense, nor the nature of the harm, has any similarity. The sole factor is that both are crimes. Aside from that, there is nothing to connect the two, and no rationale that suggests the concern for an out-of-control child molester living next door to one's child to the Mainer who had two glasses of chardonney with his lobster.
Compounding the problem is the laissez faire attitude toward registries in general, that if they're going to exist, why not have a registry for everything? Where is the critical thinking? Where does it end? Does it end?
This is an invitation to slide down the slippery slope. There may be no justification for a sex offender registry, but as long as we're being stupid, let's be really stupid. Can this possibly be a sound basis for another registry?
It wouldn't matter if this position was espoused by someone of lesser reputation, lesser credibility. But when it comes to sentencing, which includes the pseudo-civil, extrajudicial penalties of being tainted with the scarlet letter so all the neighbors can hate you, so employers will fire you, so no one will rent you an apartment or let their kids play with yours, there is no one whose opinion matters more than Doug Berman's.
Are all crimes the same, all deserving a registry because judicial sentencing, zero tolerance, mandatory minimums, three strikes laws, aren't doing enough harm to our society? If one registry exists, is that a reason to have a registry for everything? Why not?
We've already learned from the sex offender registry concept how quickly is devolves into overbreadth, how devastating and inappropriate the scope of harm it causes, how it's created a second class citizen whose life, and the lives of family members, are pointless harmed beyond repair. So let's do more of the same?
I don't get it. But then, my opinion doesn't count. It's Doug Berman's opinion that counts, and he doesn't seem to have a problem with it.