Maybe more so than other crimes, a convicted sex offender's punishment does not end with jail time served; it follows him onto the National Sex Offender Registry, onto the Internet, and soon, in Tennessee, onto his driver's license.
Starting Sept. 1, all convicted sex offenders in Tennessee must hold a newly designed license. It will bear a mark to notify police of their sex-offender status.
While I don't envision kids at the playground asking candy pushers for ID anytime soon, it wouldn't matter if they did: ID checkers will not (or should not) be able to distinguish the license from any other Tennessean's, because the mark will only be viewable to the trained eye — like a big scarlet letter written in invisible ink.
Proponents say the new law will help ensure the safety of children. If a sexual offender is pulled over, the license will prompt police to watch for signs otherwise ignored in a routine traffic stop. To see the incident behind the law,
Last December, a sex offender was pulled over for a traffic violation while, unbeknownst to the officer, he carried in his car four or five boys that he lured away from a sleepover. Considering this was the impetus for the law, it does not seem unwarranted. But new labels for old crimes are hardly confined to Tennessee.
Last week, Congress unanimously passed the KIDS Act, which will require sex offenders to register email addresses and IM screen names with a government-controlled database. Well sure! That sounds like an easily monitored plan!
Does it make a difference that only cops can see the mark? Should there be a limit to how many extra punishments we tack onto a criminal after jail time is served? Will this make would-be reoffenders think twice — or just drive the speed limit?
And what about civil liberties? Is there a limit to the number that can be taken away once a societal debt has been settled? Are some crimes heinous enough to make one bear the label forever?