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Delaware labels drivers' licenses of sex offenders.

In a unique expansion of laws requiring convicted sex offenders to register with authorities, Delaware has begun issuing drivers' permits that are clearly stamped with the letter Y.

Under a new law, anyone convicted of a sex crime--including rape, sexual extortion, and continuous sexual abuse of a child--will be reissued a driver's license with the designation Y stamped on the front of the license. An explanation of the code will be printed on the back.

The legislation requires the court sentencing a sex offender to take possession of his or her license and issue a temporary one. The offender must then report to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a replacement license with the new designation. Should the offender move to another state and turn in the Delaware license for a new permit, the Y designation would alert authorities in that state to the offender's presence.

Republican state Rep. Roger Roy, who sponsored the bill, said the law is designed to complement Delaware's so-called Megan's Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement and child welfare agencies so neighbors can be notified of offenders living nearby. Megan's Laws were passed in response to the public outcry that ensued when Jesse Timmendequas--a twice convicted child molestor--raped and murdered Megan Kanka after moving to her New Jersey neighborhood.

"This additional information will give police the ability to thwart some sex crimes before they occur," Roy said. ":Now, when police check the identification of a suspicious person lurking near a school, park, or other gathering place, they'll be able to see immediately if they have reason to be especially watchful."

Lawrence Hamermesh, president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-Delaware, said he opposes the law, which he said marks people unfairly with a "scarlet letter Y."

He said the law may be unconstitutional, noting that it interferes with a convicted felon's right to "cash a check, apply for a credit card, get a passport, or do anything that requires a picture ID." Hamermesh questioned the law's effectiveness since not all offenders, including juveniles too young to drive, obtain drivers' licenses.

Judith Mellon, director of ACLU-Delaware, wonders whether the controversial law "will actually stop any crime or merely distract from the real issues of identifying and treating the causes of violent sexual predation."

But Roy is undeterred. "Having this information encoded onto the drivers' licenses of all sex offenders in the country can only serve to better protect our communities from the type of tragedy perpetrated by people like Jesse Timmendequas," he said.

Although every state but Nebraska and New Mexico has some form of Megan's Law on the books, Delaware is apparently breaking new ground with its licensing restrictions.

"I think there are several states where police in the field have the ability to access a database identifying sex offenders," said Roxanne Lieb, director of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, which conducts research at the direction of the Washington state legislature. "But I believe Delaware is the first state to require sex offenders to carry a special designation on their driver's license."

Why `Y'?

According to Michael Shahan, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, it "was the only letter of the alphabet we had left." He said the other letters were already being used for various license endorsements and stipulations.

Shahan said work is under way to build a national network linking the databases of all the country's state motor vehicle agencies. "Our computer system has already been upgraded to make it network compatible," he said. "We're just waiting for the other states to do the same."

Roy said he plans to lobby the National Council of State Governments to have other states pass similar measures to develop a national database from motor vehicle registration information.
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Author:McMurry, Kelly
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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