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Utah Creates First Ever White Collar Criminal Registry

Utah has created the first ever registry for white-collar criminals. Similar to a sex-offender registry, the Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry primarily targets any offender convicted of fraud. With a whopping $1 billion of fraud-victim loss in 2010, apparently the citizens of Utah are particularly more vulnerable to affinity fraud due to Utah’s high volume of religious and ethnic communities.

What’s affinity fraud, you ask? Perpetrators of affinity fraud pose as members of religious or ethnic communities, build a trusting relationship, and then exploit that relationship to essentially run a Ponzi scheme against the unsuspecting members.  Think Bernie Madoff.

Despite the fact that conviction records are public, the database, according to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, will provide consumer protection in a user-friendly fashion.

Sex Offender Registries Create Stigma

Sex-offender registries are modernized scarlet letters that put the same stigma on every registrant, regardless of what they did. It’s one of the biggest arguments against the use of sex-offender registries.  While some states have taken steps to remedy the problem by creating different levels of sex-offense White Collar Crimecrimes, it still produces a stigma on the offender—usually as a pedophile even if they’ve never touched a child.  Did you know in some states you can be forced to register as a sex offender for being caught peeing in public?  Or how about a teenager exposing himself in public as a prank?

Many even argue that sex-offender registries do little to actually deter sex crimes. Whether you agree with public shaming or not, it can prove difficult for registrants to find a place to live and find sustainable jobs, all the while isolating offenders from the rest of the world.

White-Collar Registries Are Not the Same

One of the biggest differences between the two is that sex-offenders are required to list their address while the white-collar offenders are not. This definitely helps protect the offenders from any harassment issues that sex-offenders sometimes face.

Additionally, Utah’s white-collar crime registry only requires registration for the following 2nd degree felony convictions:

  • Securities fraud,
  • Theft by deception,
  • Unlawful dealing of property by fiduciary,
  • Fraudulent insurance,
  • Mortgage fraud,
  • Communications fraud, and
  • Money laundering.

Offenders are required to maintain on the registry for a period of 10 years for their 1st offense and increases with each offense thereafter.  The catch here, different than a sex-offender registry, is that an offender is not required to register if they’ve complied with all court orders at the time of sentencing, paid all court-ordered restitution to victims in full, and have not been convicted of any other registerable offense.  That’s definitely a component sex-offender registrants don’t have.

Here’s the thing, though. An offender that gets convicted of defrauding his insurance company for dismantling his motorcycle, hiding the parts, and claiming they had been stolen in order to claim insurance money gets put on the registry just the same as an insurance agent who cheated 700 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints out of $72 million.  An offender with 1 victim gets the same treatment as an offender with 700.  Sounds like it’s creating the same problems, right?

Absent not having the registry all together, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to get around negative impacts the registry may have. Creating different “levels” of offenses won’t really change the issue because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to crime involving the integrity of a person’s character.  Dishonesty is at the core of the crime of fraud—the stigma is already there and anyone on it would likely be scrutinized regardless of any class level.

Despite the Drawbacks, White-Collar Registries Can Be Beneficial

Arguably, sex-offender registries don’t do much for the public other than making them aware of the offender. Don’t get me wrong, knowing who is a sex offender is a good thing to know, but I don’t really see it preventing future sex crimes. On the other hand, white-collar crime registry could actually help prevent fraudulent behavior.

Both types of registries list what the offender was convicted of, but you will see a detailed, albeit brief, description of what the white-collar offender did that got them convicted. That could come in handy, especially for future employers looking to hire.

While a sex offender registry might state:

Lascivious acts with a minor.

The white-collar crime registry would state:

As part of job duties, prepared deposit slip for Brinks delivery on last day of work. Actual deposit on arrival at bank was short $43,900 in cash.

See the difference? It’s subtle, and arguable not significant, but what does the first one even mean?  How old was the offender compared to the victim at the time?  Was it an 18-year old boy with a 16-year old girlfriend or was the offender 30 and the victim 16?  Now, not all descriptions are so eluding, but, even so, the white-collar crime registry gives a bit insight into how the offender actually defrauded their victim. This allows an individual, or business, to make an informed decision about whether or not to do business with the offender.

New Laws make it Difficult for Cities to Use Traffic Cameras

Many states have laws on the books that make it difficult to legally use traffic cameras against unsuspecting drivers. Ohio’s recently gained media attention when lawmakers, in an effort to stop the essential “cash cow” that comes from traffic cameras, passed Senate Bill 342 with the intention of eliminating the use of traffic cameras around the state by requiring full-time police officer presence alongside traffic cameras.

Prior to the passage of the bill, Cleveland collected roughly $5.8 million from traffic camera violations. Violators of SB 342 lose local government funding equal to the amount of fines they’ve collected. Traffic Camera

The new law came after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state couldn’t directly ban cities from using cameras based on the constitutional “home rule” and, for some municipalities, it’s definitely working as a deterrent. It’s expensive to have police officers man the traffic cameras, which is why many cities have stopped using traffic camera programs altogether.  But, what Ohio lawmakers didn’t expect is the backlash from city governments that have found a way around the new law in the form of speed guns equipped with cameras.

The Ohio Supreme Court has already ruled municipalities have, under the “home rule,” the power to establish laws in accordance with the powers of local government, which includes the use of traffic cameras. Did they get it right?

Legality in Question

Other states, such as Florida, have issued rulings making it illegal to issue tickets via red light cameras, reasoning that cities cannot delegate their police power to private vendors. While others, like Missouri, have ruled that red light cameras shift the burden of proof from the state onto the defendant to prove the defendant was not operating the vehicle at the time of the violation.

Common arguments made against the use of traffic cameras include:

  • Red light cameras cause more crashes and reduce safety and do nothing to prevent an accident. While it may reduce right turn crashes, the use of red light cameras has been found by some to increase rear-end crashes.
  • Red light cameras are an invasion of privacy. Private companies typically own the cameras, which means your pictures are stored on private computer servers with no way to track when, or if, they’re deleted.
  • Red light cameras are not the most effective way of reducing red light violations. One study found that between 70-80% of red light camera violations came from the 1st second after the light turned red.  Georgia increased the timing of their yellow light timing by merely 1 second and saw a 72% reduction in red light violations.
  • Red light cameras are used primarily to raise money, not improve safety.
  • Ticket recipients are not notified quickly after the offense, putting potential violators at risk for missing deadlines.
  • There is no guarantee of delivery of citation. Even though traffic camera violations are civil in nature, proper delivery is still required.
  • There is no certifiable witness to the supposed violation. You have a constitutional right to confront your accuser; it’s difficult to cross-examine a camera.
  • The driver of the vehicle is not positively identified. Someone other than the owner of the car could have been driving.  This seems to be one of the biggest issues and, perhaps, the best argument against legality.

Speed guns equipped with cameras allow officers to issue a higher volume of tickets over the traditional route of pulling drivers over. One Ohio city mayor stated an officer could essentially write 1,000 tickets per day if they wanted to.  Although speed gun cameras appear to be completely legal under SB 342, using them doesn’t really solve any of the issues surrounding the legality of the traffic cameras in the first place.

Specifically, the argument that cities use them simply as a means to generate income for the city can still be made. Further, it seems nearly impossible for an officer to positively identify the driver of a vehicle if that officer is writing 1,000 tickets per day.

Traffic Camera Evidence Could Prove Useless

Two pending appeals in the Ohio Supreme Court put the constitutionality of SB 342 up for debate, but the bill has already passed scrutiny with the Court of Appeals and lawmakers aren’t expecting it to be overturned. Ohio seems to be following the trend, which means accused violators, in Ohio and other states with similar laws, will be able to use these types of laws to fight pending tickets.

If a city violated a state law restricting the use of traffic cameras, any evidence provided from said camera would be thrown out. Without the testimony of an officer, a city would have no evidence to fill the burden of proof. Even considering Ohio’s use of officer presence on speed gun cameras, I don’t believe it would be enough to uphold a ticket under that argument due to the fact that officers are often just taking pictures of a license plate without making any contact with the driver.

New Jersey Wants to Give Tickets for Texting While Walking

“Heads up, phones down.”

That’s the slogan for the Street Smart Safety Campaign launched in New Jersey. Lawmakers want to take it a step further by making it illegal to walk and text at the same time. New Jersey already has a distracted driving ban, which prohibits drivers from using a handheld phone, texting, or even adjusting the radio. The proposed legislation ups the ante and applies the same general restrictions to pedestrians crossing the street.

That’s right all you phone-obsessed users—you can get fined $50 and/or receive a possible 15-day jail sentence if caught using a handheld phone or texting while crossing the street! Say what?

The bill comes after a national increase in collisions related to distracted walking. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) expected another 10% increase in pedestrian deaths for the year 2015, with a total accounted 170 pedestrian deaths by the end of the year.  Close to 72% of those pedestrian fatalities happened when it was the darkest outside, between 6 p.m. and midnight.  Texting While Walking Sign

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, the creator of the bill, stated, “Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” and referencing an ever increase in technology use further stated, “As people’s behaviors change so must our policy.” Lampitt has been personally affected by distracted behavior, as she knew a student who was struck and killed by a bus while looking at his phone.

Lampitt believes raising awareness about the dangers of driving and walking while distracted will save lives. Since the Street Smart Safety Campaign launched in 4 different municipalities, jaywalking and other unsafe behavior has been reduced by 53%, which definitely suggests Lampitt may be on to something.

It only takes an increase in speed of 15mph to make the difference of a pedestrian surviving and being fatally injured when hit by a car. According to the GHSA, pedestrian deaths now account for the largest group of traffic related fatalities.

So, You’re Saying the Government Can Now Regulate My Phone Use?

Well, not exactly. I’m sure there are many opponents upset about the idea of this law going into effect.  In reality, it’s not any different than jay walking, which holds the same penalty. However, this new legislation may leave many wondering how the government can enforce this type of restriction on your phone use.

States have what’s called “police power.” Under the Constitution, states have the power to regulate behavior and enforce order for the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of its citizens. So long as the law is not unreasonably arbitrary, oppressive, or in violation of other constitutional rights, states can create laws that promote the safety of its citizens.

Just as it’s dangerous to text and drive, it can be just as dangerous to text while crossing the street. States may have less of a police power over your own personal actions, but when you’re potentially endangering the safety and welfare of others, then the State definitely has the authority to regulate those actions under the safety and general welfare umbrella.

Is This Really Necessary?

With an increase of 35% since 2010 in collisions related to distracted walking and an ever-changing increase in technology use, it may be time for this type of legislation.

For the sake of giving an example, imagine you’re texting while crossing the street and you don’t see that there is a car driving right at you. There are really only 3 outcomes that can come out of it:

  • The driver swerves so as to not hit you, which potentially puts himself and other drivers and/or pedestrians in danger that may get hit when the driver swerves,
  • The driver hits you, which very likely will kill or seriously injure you, or
  • You get extremely lucky when the driver swerves and misses you and anyone else and no one is harmed in the accident.

Only 1 out of 3 of those outcomes is a good one. Researchers disagree on the effect phone usage has while walking. Studies completed at Texas A&M found phone users are actually more cautious than their undistracted counterparts, while the University of Alabama at Birmingham found texting while crossing the street increases the chance of being hit by a car by 200%. I know I don’t like those odds.

Debtors’ Prisons: When Your Traffic Ticket Can Put You in Jail

Debtors’ prisons come from a dark time in history. In the 18th and 19th century, people who were unable to pay their debts were locked in prison until the prisoner worked off the debt or someone outside paid their debts.

The idea of imprisoning a person because they could not pay a debt came under intense criticism. So it is hard to believe that debtors’ prisons have re-emerged in our modern society. But they have returned, and the debts are now owed to the government. A speeding ticket or a parking ticket can ruin anyone’s day. You may need to pay to attend traffic school, pay the fine, and your insurance premium will go up.

What happens if you can’t pay for a fine that rapidly grows in cost? The answer seems to be simple: do not get a traffic ticket. But is there more to this problem than being a law-abiding citizen? And what do traffic tickets have to do with debtors’ prisons?

How Does a $35 Traffic Ticket Turns Into a $298 Traffic Ticket?

On California’s DMV website, they admit that a traffic ticket with a “$35 base fine may actually cost you $146.” All tickets in California have a surcharge of 20%. If you have a ticket worth $40, you have an added charge of $8. But if you have a ticket worth $500, then you have a surcharge of $100, resulting in a fine of $600. In the end, a speeding ticket with a base charge of $35 may end up being $298 due to additional charges.

If you “ignore” your ticket, or are unable to pay for it, the fine can double. If you continue to ignore your ticket, your license can be suspended. A failure to address your ticket can result in a warrant for your arrest. Speeding Ticket

This is what happened to Qumotria Kennedy and so many others, who were unable to pay the growing fine of $1,001. That fine came from one ticket that happened two years ago. But as a single mother of two working part-time, she could not afford to pay off the growing fine.

One day, her friend’s car was pulled over and Ms. Kennedy was a passenger. The police officer ran a search on Ms. Kennedy and found she had an outstanding warrant. She was jailed for five nights and eventually released. As a result, she lost her job and now lives in fear that another arrest warrant will be issued.

Ms. Kennedy’s situation is not unique. There are many people who are dealing with the never-ending cycle of mounting fines. They are arrested, held in jail, and then have to pay for bail, legal fees, and the still growing fine. It is easy to see how so many people cannot afford to stay out of jail.

“Driving Safely” May Not Fix the Problem

Law enforcement outlawed traffic ticket quotas and insisted that they do not exist. Every so often though, another article writes about another police station upholding a quota. Combined with the reality of racial profiling, it may be that people of color that drive older vehicles will be pulled over more often.

Opponents will argue that cities and counties rely on municipal fines like traffic tickets to keep their lights on. If the police department is not issuing as many tickets, then their city or county may suffer. Often the police are encouraged or ordered to issue a certain number of tickets a month. It isn’t easy for them to catch every speeding driver. But it is easy to pull over an older car on the chance they do not have insurance, expired tags, broken tail lights, or any other moving violation.

For example, in California if you move and do not change your address with the DMV within 10 days, you face a $214 fine. A damaged muffler can cost $178. Failure to provide evidence of car insurance can give you a $718 fine. It can be reduced with proof of insurance at a later time, but the fine is not eliminated, just reduced.

The System is Broken, And We Are Paying the Price

However, cities and counties should not rely on traffic tickets to keep their budget afloat. The use of a ticket quota is banned for a reason. The government cannot continue to profit off individuals who must pay an increasing fine for their freedom. The fact that a $35 fine can increase into a $298 fine due to “surcharges” is excessive by almost any standard.

Yet, even if the driver has proof that they did not break the law, they would need to go into court to contest it. Often the driver will need to miss an entire day of work to make the court appearance.

Paying off an unexpected fine may not be possible for a large part of our society. Recent studies show that 41% of Americans have less than $500 saved in their account. Around 23% of Americans have less than $100 available to spend in an emergency.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a growing part of our country cannot pay off their traffic tickets. It is a system that is broken and digs individuals deeper and deeper into debt.

Will California Raise the Legal Smoking Age to 21?

In the 1950s, smoking was the epitome of cool. Movie stars such as James Dean and Humphrey Bogart were never without a cigarette. Actress Audrey Hepburn made smoking look glamorous. Advertisements even encouraged pregnant women to smoke to reduce their baby’s birth weight. Back then, we didn’t know just how harmful it is to blow smoke into your lungs.

Nowadays, we know that smoking causes a host of fatal diseases. The tobacco industry constantly loses customers when current customers quit or die from smoking-related illnesses. In order to survive, tobacco companies must attract a new generation of tobacco users, and that’s exactly who they target: the next generation.

California intends to protect today’s youth with new legislation. California’s current smoking law prohibits the selling of tobacco to any child under 18 years old, but the California legislature gave final approval to bills that would raise the smoking age to 21 and regulate electronic cigarettes. It is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown.

If it becomes law, California will be the second state alongside Hawaii to increase the smoking age to 21. More than 100 cities, including New York and Boston, have already raised the age limit.

Youth Related Smoking

Tobacco use in the United States is established primarily during adolescence. Whether they use standard cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, or hookahs, statistics demonstrate that nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18. Even more alarming, each day in the United States, more than 3,800 youth aged 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette. No Smoking

Tobacco companies are savvy and use flavorings in their products to make them more appealing to youth. Most adolescents 18 or younger reported using a flavored tobacco product within the last 30 days.

The negative effects of smoking are staggering. Studies suggest if smoking continues at the current rate among youth in the U.S., 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from smoking-related illnesses. To give you further perspective, that’s about 1 out of every 13 Americans aged 17 or younger alive today.

Criticism of Legislation

In spite of the evidence that something needs to be done to protect today’s youth from this silent killer, experts that oppose the legislation claim that raising the smoking age to reduce tobacco use among teens does not work. Specifically, experts say that there is no research to show that raising the smoking age to 21 will deter teenagers from smoking.

Experts also claim that although the age increase may make it so less tobacco is sold to minors, there will be no effect in the ability of high school students to get cigarettes. They point to the existing evidence which demonstrate most people have tried their first cigarette before the legal age of 18.

Others claim that raising the age limit to smoke takes away a fundamental right afforded to all adults. In the United States, one needs to be 18 to vote or fight for the country. For all intents and purposes, people are considered adults as soon as they turn 18. Adults should be able to make decisions on their own without interference of government regulations.

Support of Legislation

Despite the naysayers, there is plenty of support for this legislation. Many believe that nicotine enslaves smokers in their addiction. Most people are unable to quit smoking in spite of numerous attempts to quit. If teenagers are unable to buy tobacco legally, it reduces the chance that they will become addicted at a young age.

Others hope that policies that reduce or delay initiation of smoking could have a large impact on public health. Raising the legal minimum purchase age of cigarettes from 18 to 21 could be an effective way to reduce youth smoking by making it harder for them to buy cigarettes. The legislation may also reduce the number of legal buyers teenagers encounter in their normal social circles, further limiting their exposure to tobacco products. Supporters think the legislation will prevent young people from dying prematurely because of lung cancer, stroke, emphysema, and heart disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics agree, claiming that premature deaths would decrease by 223,000, while lung cancer related deaths would decrease by approximately 50,000 per year.

Studies also suggest that medical cost savings far outweigh costs incurred through enforcement or checking IDs. Individual retailers incur the cost of checking IDs and the state incurs costs on enforcement, but overall states save in reduced health care expenditures.