Monday, March 1, 2010

Details coming soon

Last week’s quasi-debate with sex offenders distressed that their allegedly minor misdeeds have resulted in the Scarlet Letter made me think: the private sector would have leveraged this information long ago if the State hadn’t already effectively occupied the field.

If there was no such thing as the Sex Offender Registry, how long do you think it would be before an enterprising web developer made a FOIA request for public criminal history information, attacked it with the Goggle Maps API, and created an application to which employers, landlords, volunteer coordinators, parents, schools, and so forth could subscribe for only $5.95 per month? An annual subscription, of course, would be discounted by 10%.

It is remarkable how quickly the veil has been lifted on public records that for a few centuries were somewhat protected by their practical obscurity.

Here’s what I mean by the "”practical obscurity” of public records: when I was the Sheriff of Lancaster County, the office of the Register of Deeds was across the hall. They had a lot of traffic. If you wanted to find a property record, you hitched up the wagon and went to town. In the basement of the Courthouse, a clerk looked up the address in a card file, then brought you a big dusty book through which you searched through to find the relevant record. The land records were public, but it took some time and effort to get them. By the mid-1990’s, though, you could look it all up instantly at home in your flannel jammies and fuzzy slippers.

I think this same thing is about to happen with court records in the not-too-distant future. The judicial system is not exactly on the bleeding edge of technology (they gave up the powdered wig, but they still wear the robes). Increasingly, though, the records are electronic. Most appellate courts make their decisions available on the Internet already. I predict that the nitty-gritty records of trial courts will someday be a clickable link on a website: notices, petitions, motions, exhibits, orders, affidavits, and so forth.

In fact, they are now to some extent. If you are a Big Cheese and your nasty actions are newsworthy, the news media is often getting the hard copies of court records and scanning them as .pdf files for enhanced content on their website. If you’re a genuine celebrity, is looking for your records. My guess is that we’re going to see courts making such public record documents directly accessible, sooner or later. Since they are increasingly kept in electronic format, there will be a greater likelihood they will be made available without the trip to the County Seat.

If you don’t like the fact that a notation of your conviction is available online, just wait until all the gory details in the court records are splayed out like the innards of a road-killed possum.

It won’t be pretty, and you won’t be able to get on my blog anonymously (like the commenter did last Thursday at 1:58 PM) to claim that you were a hapless 19 year old college student railroaded when a devious minor year old tricked you into committing a felony. By the way, he was 21 and she was barely 14—three months—when the crime was reported by her parents, who had just discovered that she was pregnant. I guess he's not the only one dealing with the long-term consequences.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see a law requiring the past criminal history, credit reports and IRS tax returns of ALL people running for a Public office be made available online. If ALL officers of a publicly traded corporation and their BOD members had to make this information available to investors my stock portfolio would probably look a heckuva lot better than it does.

Gun Nut

Bill-formerly-from-the-hood said...

The Nebraska Supreme Court and Appellate court are already viewable live on the web during oral arguments.

You can also listen to archives of past cases. I agree, it's not going to be long before the consequences of going to court are potentially going to be much more than just those imposed by the courts.

Anonymous said...

Chief-To be honest, I haven't thought much about RSO's. I checked a couple of years ago when there was an article in the local newspaper and found that the apartment complex two miles from my house is the closest home of anyone on the registry. There have been a couple fairly recent local cases that have caught my attention however.

Recently convicted for murder were "Ray Ray" Robinson and two of his associates. It seems that Ray Ray got his 13 year-old girlfriend pregnant and her Mother was going to turn him in for statuatory rape as soon as the baby was born and DNA testing could be performed. Ray Ray got a couple of thugs to kill her for $500 in drugs and they dumped her body in the ditch on a country road. His address will be fairly stable for the rest of his life and he won't be much of a threat to society.

Case number two was a 16 year-old girl who mysteriously disappeared and was found 500 miles away with her 31 year-old friend who was on the registry because of his old conviction for lascivious acts with a child.

The registry has nothing to do with case number one, however a diligent and responsible parent may have prevented case number two, had they known about their daughter's new "friend".

In both cases, however, it gets back to our previous discussion on parenting. Parents need to take some initiative and find out who their kids are hanging with. The information is out in cyberspace if they know where to look.


Anonymous said...

With property ownership records so easy to search on the internet, it begs the question as to why sellers have to pay such exorbitant fees to "title companies" to provide/perform this service. This has chapped me for several years. I'm not seeing the "value" I'm getting from the title company. But the title companies are getting a lot of "value" from me.

Steve said...

I say we bring back stocks and the pillory for all who offend against society.

Anonymous said...

How soon?

Anonymous said...


Are juvenile SOs put on the list, or are they able to hide behind their age, like they are with other crimes? This kid is an example - if he winds up being convicted. If he did what they say he did, I give him short odds on re-offending. Multiple victim, all very young, etc.