« "Turn Prisons Into Colleges" ... and urging colleges to invest in prisoner education | Main | You be the sentencing juror: what punishment for deadly drunk driving by Texas State college student? »

March 8, 2018

Highlighting that registries are not only for sex offenders in many states

This new Marshall Project piece, headlined "Convicted of a Drug Crime, Registered with Sex Offenders," focuses on the broad reach of the offender registry employed in Kansas and debate over its reform.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts from the piece:

Lawmakers have long justified sex offender registries as a way to notify people about potentially dangerous neighbors or acquaintances, while critics say they fail to prevent crime and create a class of social outcasts.  Over the years, several states have expanded their registries to add perpetrators of other crimes, including kidnapping, assault, and murder.  Tennessee added animal abuse.  Utah added white collar crimes.  A few states considered but abandoned plans for hate crime and domestic abuse registries.  At least five states publicly display methamphetamine producers.

But Kansas went furthest, adding an array of lesser drug crimes; roughly 4,600 people in the state are now registered as drug offenders.  As deaths from opioids rise, some public officials have focused on addiction as a public health issue.  Kansas offers a different approach, as law enforcement officials argue that the registry helps keep track of people who may commit new offenses and cautions the public to avoid potentially dangerous areas and individuals.  At the same time, many registrants say it can be hard to move on when their pasts are just a click away for anyone to see.

The Kansas legislature is currently considering a bill proposed by the state’s sentencing commission that would remove drug offenders from the registry.  “It is a drain on resources with no science, studies, or data to justify it,” defense lawyer Jennifer Roth told lawmakers at an early February hearing.

The Kansas law, first passed in 2007, now requires anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing “with intent to distribute” drugs other than marijuana to remain on the registry for a minimum of 15 years (and a maximum of life, for multiple convictions.)  During that time, they must appear at their county sheriff’s office four times a year, as well as any time they move, get a new job, email address, vehicle, or tattoo.  Most of this information is online, searchable by name or neighborhood, and members of the public can sign up to be emailed when an offender moves in or starts work near them.  (In 2013, when businesses expressed fear of vigilantes targeting registrants at work, lawmakers removed employment addresses from the website.)  During the quarterly sheriff visits, they must pay $20 and have their picture retaken; if they work or go to school in another county, they must register there as well.  “Any time I get a new job, I have to say, ‘Sorry, I need time off’ in the first 72 hours,” said Juston Kerns, 35, arrested for involvement in the sale of methamphetamine in 2014.

A few years ago, Wesley Harden — convicted in 2008 of selling methamphetamine after he led police on a high-speed chase — was arrested and charged with “failure to register.” Harden, 35, showed up as required, but he’d recently failed to report a jet ski as a new vehicle.  He doesn’t know for sure how the authorities discovered the jet ski, but thinks it has to do with pictures he posted on Facebook.  Harden received three years of probation, but the punishment for failing to register can include prison time, even if the original conviction was handled without incarceration.  Last year, 38 people were sent to prison over their failure to register for drug crimes, and the Kansas Sentencing Commission estimates that removing drug crimes would save the state roughly a million dollars each year....

Many law enforcement officials support the registry on public safety grounds. “People who sell drugs, there tends to be dangerous activity that takes place around their residence,” said Ed Klumpp, a retired Topeka police chief who lobbies for law enforcement at the legislature and opposes the current bill. “If you’re raising children in the neighborhood, it’s good to know there is someone down the street convicted of selling or manufacturing, so maybe they won’t send the kids to get candy there on Halloween.”

In recent years, lawyers around the country have argued to increasing success that registration requirements are unconstitutional.  One county in Colorado recently took its registry offline after a judge found it to be cruel and unusual punishment. California recently passed a law allowing sex offenders to be removed from the registry after 10 to 20 years if they have not committed another serious or violent felony or sex crime.

But beyond the legal questions are practical ones.  Little is known about whether registries prevent crime, and University of Michigan law professor J.J. Prescott has speculated that they may even facilitate crimes that involve buyers and sellers.  “Imagine I move to a new city and I don't know where to find drugs,” he said.  “Oh, I can just look up people on the registry!”

Evidence to support this theory is scant — and law enforcement leaders in Kansas say they have not encountered the problem — but at the February legislative hearing, Scott Schultz, the executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said he had learned of one registrant who found people at her door, looking to buy drugs.  They’d seen her address online. “I’ve called it, tongue in cheek, state-sponsored drug-dealing,” Schultz said, describing the registry as an “online shopping portal for meth and other drugs.”

March 8, 2018 at 11:11 AM | Permalink


I have proposed a registry of lawyers proposing registries. They should be boycotted by all product and service providers.

On the other had, these registry quacks need to get in gear. China has a jaywalking registry, putting faces and personal information on huge screens in the street.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 8, 2018 1:03:29 PM

Drug registries. Brilliant idea. If I am new in town, and I need illegal drugs, I know exactly where to go and whom to ask for. Nice referral source.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 8, 2018 1:27:58 PM

At least the drug registrants have the option of moving to another state, where no such registration schemas exist. Sex offenders have SORNA to deal with as well, and usually when they move to other states their treatment becomes harsher than the previous state.

I'm not saying that drug registration isn't wrong; it is despicable. But the pragmatic consequences are comparatively easy to alleviate compared to sex offender registrants.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 8, 2018 5:32:59 PM

Well, what do I say about these particular states? At least they are no longer singling out former sex offenders for forced registration.

This requirement, however, that sex offenders still have to register could explode in the face of law-enforcement personnel. Suppose a huge concentration of ex-sex offenders and other registration-eligible offenders decide to band together to resort either to civil disobedience in mass numbers where many of them simultaneously refuse to register in several localities across the U.S.? Will law-enforcement have enough personnel to enforce such compliance without seriously compromising their ability to protect the general public from far more serious crimes like drunk driving, selling drugs to little children, drive-by shooters, home-invasions, domestic violence, etc.? If they could do so, could they still avoid raising our already astronomically high taxes to still even higher levels, thereby causing a possible tax-payers' revolt. If one has to raise the sales tax on food and other essentials for human survival just to pay for a stupid registry, will the American people be dumb enough to stand for this?

Would we have to open up all the cells in our city/county jails and state/federal prisons to make room for these non-registrants? Who will pay for the judges and extra prosecutors who will be saddled with the duty of tracking down all these non-registrants? Who will compensate the jurors called to extra duty for those defendants who refuse to plea-bargain their non-registrant offenses? This will be both time-consuming and money-consuming. Who pays the bill especially when most former offenders are indigent? Nothing is free and money does not grow on trees.

What about violent backlashes by former offenders, especially by former sex offenders, who are fed up with double jeopardy. Many of these former offenders may now feel they have nothing to lose by resorting to violent resistance against these laws by targeting either law-enforcement or other innocent bystanders while venting their frustrations.

This is something to think about.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Mar 9, 2018 9:31:20 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB