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Friday, October 28, 2005

Should Sex Offenders have Driver's Licenses that Indicate one is offender

This is bound to be highly controversial.

Sheriffs want ID for predators
The proposal: People convicted of capital or multiple sex crimes would have drivers licenses that say so. But critics see liabilities.
Amy L. Edwards
Orlando (Florida) Sentinel Staff Writer

October 28, 2005

Florida's registered sexual predators already have their photographs and addresses listed on the World Wide Web in a state database for public access.

But the Florida Sheriffs Association wants such people to stand out even more. The group said it will ask the state to require them to have identifiers on their drivers licenses marking them as predators.

Registered sex offenders and predators are flagged in a state database that law-enforcement officers or dispatchers use when they run a drivers-license check.

The group's suggestion, said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd,chairman of the association's Legislative Committee, would allow police to immediately identify a predator in case a computer is down or the information isn't quickly accessible.

Although the issue was named as a priority for the 2006 legislative session by the sheriffs group last week, it likely will meet resistance.

"We may very well get some opposition," Judd said. "I'm not concerned about that. When you do the right thing, it will stand on its own merit."

Tom Berlinger, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said he thinks the agency would support such a measure if it enhances public safety.

"This proposal . . . looks like a very good idea," Berlinger said.

But critics contend the drivers-license identifier could do more harm than good if written into law.

"I think it's inappropriate," said Paul Sandman, a licensed mental-health counselor who treats sex offenders in Polk County. "They already have them identified on the Internet. They've gone to great lengths already."

Such measures are excessive and make it more difficult for sex offenders to lead a different life, he said.

"When is there going to be a bill so that they can print 'sex offender' on their forehead? It's getting to that," Sandman said. "I'm working with people to help them try and not do it again, and I have to deal with their hysterical reactions, their anger . . . from being confronted and identified as a sex offender over and over and over."

John Q. La Fond, a recently retired University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, agreed the identifier could be useless and hurt people more than it would benefit law enforcement.

"Most of us show our drivers license to use a credit card, to cash a check and what you call everyday commercial matters," La Fond said. "The fact that one is a sex offender is absolutely irrelevant to the merchant."

Such a proposal would "increase the humiliation and shame . . . without advancing any legitimate public purpose," he said.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he appreciates that the Florida Sheriffs Association is aiming its suggestion at predators only and not all sex offenders.

Predators are thought to pose a greater risk to the community because they have been convicted of capital or multiple offenses. An "offender" designation includes any lesser sex crime.

But Simon worries that the idea, if written into legislation, could lead to discrimination against such people.

"I'm not sure how much public safety is enhanced by putting a mark on the drivers license," Simon said. "I do see the opening of the door of retaliation, vigilantism and discrimination. I see all those liabilities."

Lawmakers this year passed the Jessica Lunsford Act, named after a 9-year-old Citrus County girl who was abducted from her bedroom in February and killed. Police arrested a registered sex offender who they say killed the girl.

The act increases penalties for some offenders and predators, requires background checks of people who could come into contact with children at schools, and requires some to wear electronic-monitoring bracelets.

Lawmakers are working on measures that would further strengthen the bill, including forcing counties to maintain separate hurricane shelters for sex offenders.

Cities across Florida have taken their own steps to restrict where such offenders may live. Oviedo was the first in Central Florida to ban certain sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of where children may gather.

Seminole County restricts offenders from going within 1,000 feet of a park, school or day-care facility. However, there are numerous exemptions to the measure. Sex offenders registered with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office also must carry agency-issued identification cards.

The Florida Sheriffs Association named several other priorities it says would strengthen the Jessica Lunsford Act, including prohibiting predators from staying with the public at emergency shelters.

"Florida's sheriffs are going to be tough on those who are offenders and predators -- anyone who will prey on our children," Judd said.

Amy L. Edwards can be reached at or 863-422-3395.

Copyright © 2005, Orlando Sentinel