Publicly shaming convicted sex offenders is nothing new. Relatively few people object to their names and photos being plastered on the Internet as a scarlet letter tattooed to their foreheads for all to see. There's a plausible argument to be made that this helps promote public safety by alerting neighbors and the community to a potential threat.
But what about drunk drivers? Do they deserve to bear the same mark of shame as child molesters and rapists?
That's the question being debated today in Austin as the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considers state Representative Richard Raymond's HB 133, which would create a searchable database -- names, photos, addresses and birthdays included -- of anyone convicted of certain "intoxication-related" offenses.
The offenses that would earn such a public shaming are: DWI; DWI with a child passenger; intoxication assault; and intoxication manslaughter. Raymond offers a rather conspicuous exemption for anyone convicted under the Texas penal code of assembling/operating an amusement ride while intoxicated, a clear pander to the drunk carnie lobby.
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A drunk driver database wouldn't really cost anything, according to an estimate by the Legislative Budget Board. But is it a good idea?
Scott Henson, writing at Grits For Breakfast, thinks not, lumping Raymond's bill in with a measure that would place extensive restrictions on sex offenders' social networking use.
In any event, this is a counterproductive ploy borne of haughty, short-sighted puritanism bereft of Christian forgiveness. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Scarlet Letter, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, found that her public labeling as an adulteress became "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread." Similarly, applying this sort of digital signage of shame may actually promote further misconduct by excluding those listed from polite company, preventing interactions with those who might lead them toward righteousness and confining their online interactions to a silo of sinners.
It's hard to argue that Raymond's measure has any use other than public shaming, but the focus, Henson suggests, should be on treatment, rehabilitation and education.