If you have a Florida driver's license or state ID, you might want to check the bottom-right corner. If the code 943.0435 is printed there, you're listed as a convicted sex offender who has been required to register with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. What would happen if you found that code on your license, though, and you'd never been accused of a sex offense in your life?
That happened late last year when a legally-blind man went to the DMV in Jacksonville. He'd moved to Florida from Louisiana to live near his brother, a 20-year Navy serviceman. Divorced, his kids grown and his vision limited, he was hoping for a new start among people he knew and trusted. Instead, he was officially labeled a career sexual predator due to a clerical error.
No one had noticed the code 943.0435 listed on his ID or had any idea of what it meant until March, when the two brothers headed out to Jacksonville Naval Air Station and were stopped at the gate. The Louisiana man wasn't allowed on base because his state ID said he was a sex offender.
He has never been convicted of a sex crime and he’s not listed on any actual sex offender registry -- but even his brother had to admit a tiny, niggling hesitation. Of course his brother believed him, but he had to admit he couldn’t truly know what might have happened in his brother’s life when he was stationed abroad.
The Louisiana man has now been exonerated, complete with a letter of apology from the Duval County Tax Collector, which operates the Jacksonville DMV and a refund of his $31.25 fee.
Nevertheless, “it’s going to be in the back of somebody’s mind even if they proved it’s not true,” the exonerated man worries. “My kids have kids. Do you ask him to baby-sit?”
While this story isn’t strictly about criminal defense, all Floridians should know that this could easily happen again. For someone to be coded as a career sexual predator on a state ID, all the DMV system requires is for a clerk to click “yes” to one question among a screenful of yes-or-no questions about the applicant’s health, required vision correction and organ donation decision. There is no safeguard, and no requirement that the clerk actually check the sex offender registry itself.
Source: The Florida Times-Union, “Mistaken ID as 'sex offender' brings lawsuit,” Andrew Pantazi, Dec. 26, 2013