The latest in criminal registries: meth makers

States rapidly adopting online registries to publicize whereabouts of meth makers and sellers. A nice service for buyers but does it help communities?
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
Call it the Scarlet Letter theory of government. First there was sex offenders registries, then deadbeat dads. Now governments are signing up to create registries of the names of makers and sellers of methamphetamine, USA Today reports.

Tennessee, Minnesota and Illinois have created registries of those convicted of running labs in the past 18 months. Meth-offender registries are being considered in Georgia, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington state and West Virginia.

Tennessee has more than 400 people in its meth-offender database, which was created partly in response to complaints from landlords and other property owners about the toxic waste created after chemicals are "cooked" to make meth. Illinois lawmakers approved a meth-offender registry in June, and last month Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his executive powers to create a registry that is to be online by Dec. 31.

The registries generally include the names, birthdates and offenses of convicted meth manufacturers, dealers and traffickers. The dates of their convictions and the locations of their crimes also are included. The listings are not as specific as those in sex-offender registries, which include offenders' addresses and photos.

"We want to arm citizens with information, so they can protect themselves and their communities," says Brian McClung, a spokesman for Pawlenty.

The ACLU is not challenging the programs in court but is raising concerns the publicity amounts to a double punishment for those who have already served their time.

Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, says the prospect of being listed on a meth-offender registry for at least several years after a conviction amounts to an extra punishment "that's not allowed under our Constitution."

The issue was largely settled by the Supreme Court in 2003 when they said sex offender registries did not amount to double jeopardy. But the courts said sex offenders pose such a threat to communities that the registries were OK. That's probably not the case for meth makers. And there may an unintended consequence: a government-sanctioned drug dealer search engine.

Boyd also says drug users could use meth-offender registries to locate dealers. "One group for whom this registry is going to be an incredibly good resource is people looking to buy methamphetamine," he says.
Editorial standards