Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
MLive reporter Angie Jackson appears to believe that Michigan needs a “murderer registry" (http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/03/with_500_convicted_killers_on.html#incart_story_package). Why? As Ms. Jackson tells us, paraphrasing the mother of a Barry County murder victim, “[c]reating a statewide murderer registry could be lifesaver.”
A statewide murderer registry would presumably be similar to Michigan’s existing sex-offender registry. Under the sex-offender registry, any person convicted of an enumerated sexual crime must notify law enforcement of his or her address and any change in his or her residence. Failing to provide the required information and updates to law enforcement is itself a separate criminal offense.
Creating such registries has become an increasingly popular idea of late. Earlier this year, State Representatives Fred Durhal III, Phil Phelps, Charles Smiley, George Darany, Tim Greimel, Andy Schor, Harvey Santana, Brandon Dillon, Adam Zemke, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Jim Townsend, Wendell Byrd, Leslie Love, Robert Kosowski, and John Chirkun introduced HB 4080 and HB 4081, which would create a new “stalker offender registration act.” Under the proposed legislation, an individual convicted of stalking would be required to register and remain on a statewide registry for at least 25 years after the date of his or her conviction, or 10 years after the date of his or her release from incarceration, whichever is longer. Still other offenders would be required to remain on the registry for life. Like the sex-offender registration act, this proposed legislation would require any person convicted of stalking to notify law enforcement of his or her address and provide regular updates concerning his or her whereabouts. The legislation would establish an entirely new bureaucracy, create new criminal offenses for failing to comply, and institute numerous additional responsibilities for law enforcement agencies.
Stalking is a form of aggravated assault. Stalkers violate their victims by harassing them, placing them in fear, and invading the most private areas of their lives. But stalkers are certainly not the only offenders who instill fear and invade the privacy of their victims. What about burglars, robbers, arsonists, and kidnappers? Should we have a statewide burglar registry? How about a drunk-driver registry?
In time, if the Michigan Legislature continues to create a new registry each time there is a complaint from a victim or a frightened neighbor, millions of people will be stigmatized and no one with a criminal record will be able to reside anywhere without fearing retribution from those living nearby.
Michigan already has adequate laws to cover the perceived problem. If a convicted murderer kills again, or a convicted stalker stalks again, there are ample existing statutes to address the situation. What’s more, personal protection orders are routinely granted to crime victims. We simply don’t need a new registry to keep track of released offenders or “protect” unwitting neighbors who might be living next door.
Statewide registries assume that each convicted killer, stalker, or other criminal who has been paroled or released after serving his or her sentence will remain a danger to the community for years to come. They are entirely incompatible with the concepts of rehabilitation and second chances. Ms. Jackson tells us that there are more than 500 convicted killers on the streets of Michigan, and cites examples of killers who have reoffended after being paroled. What she fails to mention, however, is that most people convicted of homicide never kill again. Ms. Jackson also conveniently disregards the distinction between second-degree murder and manslaughter, lumping the two offenses together throughout her article. She never attempts to explain why someone convicted of involuntary manslaughter following a fatal automobile crash should be stigmatized and ostracized to the same degree as a deliberate, cold-blooded killer who is lucky enough to have pleaded to second-degree murder.
And what about the first-time offenders whose names won’t appear on any registry? Should the Michigan Legislature consider implementing a registry for anyone identified as a likely killer? Perhaps all Michigan children should be required to undergo a psychiatric examination on their first day of kindergarten; any child displaying potential criminal tendencies could then be required to register with the state police for life. Would this make us safer? Maybe. But at what cost?
Those who have served their debt to society should not be subjected to a second, continuing punishment after being released. Our system of justice was not designed to work this way. If a trial judge truly and reasonably believes that a given offender will remain particularly dangerous to society for many years, there are existing methods of lengthening that individual’s sentence and keeping him or her behind bars. It is both unchristian and unnecessary to sentence offenders for their crimes and then, upon their release from prison, subject them to a new round of stigmatization, harassment, and ostracism in the name of public safety.