When they came up with the idea for a sex offender registry, tapping into the mythic fear of stranger danger to give the appearance of doing something to protect the public, at least legislators had what appeared to be a rational basis. Sure, it was nonsensical and played upon baseless fears that some guy was about to snatch, rape and murder your kid, when the truth was that Uncle Sam was far more likely a culprit.
But it made us feel safer, so we applauded.
And we immediately started the inevitable slide down the slippery slope of calling any offense remotely related to a sex organ a sex offense, requiring that people be put on the registry for the neighbors to see. If there were neighbors, since we enhanced the laws to limit their ability to live anywhere except under a bridge far from the rest of humanity.
A permanent underclass was created, and it could include the drunk college kid who peed against a wall, the 16-year-old who had sex with the 15-year-old, as well as the pedophile. But hey, who wanted to point out these problems and be the champion for sex offenders? No one ever got elected for being the voice of reason.
And once the public warmed to the whole registry notion, feeding its salacious desire to know who the bad guys were, we forgot why there was a registry, fallacious though the reason was, and embraced the whole concept of registries as a permanent punishment and warning for us good people to shun those bad dudes.
Utah, having returned to the fire squad after they just said no to drugs, has finally upped the ante.
With just a point and a click, you can browse a face book of felons, a new government website that will warn of the danger these criminals pose to society.
Only these are not the faces of sex offenders and serial killers. These criminals are mortgage schemers and inside traders, most likely armed with nothing more than an M.B.A. or a law degree.
Their faces will soon appear online courtesy of the Utah Legislature, which on Wednesday approved a measure to build the nation’s first white-collar offender registry, appending a scarlet letter of sorts on the state’s financial felons.
Yup, the White Collar Offender Registry. Keep your stocks and bonds locked up in their room, as the neighbor might lose control and fondle them if he can.
“White-collar crime is an epidemic in Utah,” said Sean Reyes, the state’s attorney general who formulated the idea for the registry when he was a defense lawyer, “representing some of these bad guys.” A former mixed martial arts fighter who has a metal plate lodged in his eye socket from a basketball injury, Mr. Reyes noted that while violent crimes were devastating, many “physical wounds heal,” whereas white-collar crimes “can forever deplete your life savings.”
Serious blows to the head can do lasting damage to one’s ability to think. Whether that’s the cause of Reyes’ problem with connecting dots is unknown, but it’s painful to learn that he came up with this ridiculous idea while a defense lawyer. His clients at the time should parse their case files for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Or maybe just a “my lawyer was a blithering idiot” claim.
Whether an epidemic of white collar crime exists in Utah isn’t clear. There isn’t much of an epidemic of any type of crime these days, but that only serves to lower the bar on what’s needed for hyperbole. Regardless, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the need for a registry. Are white collar criminals (which covers a vague but broad panoply of offenses) so prone to recidivism that we must watch them, know where they are every minute of the day, keep them away from our
And then there’s the tear inspiring characterization of “many ‘physical wounds heal,’ whereas white-collar crimes ‘can forever deplete your life savings.'” It’s time for a remake of the old TV show, “Queen for a Day,” but with crime victims explaining why they’ve suffered more than victims of other crimes.
But then, why not add White Collar Offenders to the list?
The pornography registry was created after every state in the country built a sex offender registry. And according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, several states have formed drug-offender registries and even a database of arsonists.
“There are sick individuals out there who are preying on innocent animals,” said Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), sponsor of the bill.
Well, yeah. That’s why it’s a crime, Jon.
And indeed, offenses like fraud are a crime as well. If someone commits a financial crime, they should be prosecuted and, if guilty, convicted and punished appropriately. And when they’ve served their sentence, paid their debt to society, they are released so that they can get their world back together and move forward to lead law-abiding lives.
In part, the registry is aimed at recouping cash from the convicts. Indeed, to disappear from the attorney general’s registry, the offenders must pay full restitution to their victims.
Aside from the wide variety of other mechanisms available to obtain restitution, the lunacy of this excuse is that offenders on a registry can’t get jobs, meaning they can’t earn a living so they can pay restitution. Or feed their family. This is the sort of rationalization that makes registries palatable to the clueless.
For a first offense, an offender will appear on the site for 10 years. By the third offense, the offender’s picture will live there permanently.
Only ten years for a first offender? That certainly won’t impair their transition back to law-abiding citizen and pillar of the community. Ten years is a very long sentence of shame and shun, beyond the sentence imposed by a court. But then, registries aren’t sentences; they’re civil and regulatory, putting them beyond the reach of constitutional protections. Of course, if a court pretends a decade of punishment is merely civil, the fiction rules.
Plenty of harm can be done with an MBA or law degree, and some of it is, without question, criminal. But there is no purpose to a registry for White Collar Offenders other than to hang them out to dry in perpetuity, because we hate them too. In Utah, this apparently is a good enough reason.
Update: As I’ve just been informed by Mike Paar, Florida has a registry for all felons. It would seem more efficient if Florida has a registry for all non-felons, just to save space.