Utah just became the first state in the nation to establish a registry for white collar criminal offenders. Modeled on sex offender registries around the country, the idea is that individuals convicted of serious fraud offenses will have their name, a recent photo, date of birth, physical description, and criminal conduct posted online for the world to see.
An article in The Atlantic suggests that Utah is a perfect testing ground for this type of registry because fraudsters’ predilection for preying on affinity groups leaves the tight-knit Mormon community especially vulnerable to scams. How the registry will actually protect them is unclear. If a scammer uses a fake name the next time around, how is the potential victim supposed to track him down – search every photo on the registry before buying anything or making any investment?
If this experiment spreads to other states like every other online offender registry thus far (e.g., drug offender registries, arsonist registries, and more), white collar defendants will have to add being branded as fraudsters online for the rest of their lives to the growing list of collateral consequences resulting from felony convictions. If that’s the goal – one more form of punishment – let’s call it what it is and not pretend we’re doing this to protect society.
Why do we need this? Does anyone really think potential victims are going to be protected? Or is it more likely that the registry will simply serve as one more obstacle in the path of defendants who serve their time and make a legitimate effort to reenter society? We already make them reveal convictions on job applications, take away their right to vote, take away their government benefits, and more. Is Utah’s goal to simply make impossible for them to ever get over their past?
Hopefully this is one idea that does not make it out of the “laboratory of democracy” that is the state of Utah.