How Florida has mistakenly identified people as sex offenders

If you really stop to think about it, your driver’s license or state ID card contains a wealth of personal information outside of just your name and address. Indeed, it outlines whether you want to donate your organs in the event of a serious accident, whether you require corrective lenses and whether you have been diagnosed with certain medical conditions.

In addition, here in Florida, your driver’s license or state ID card can also indicate whether you are a sex offender.

Thanks to a law passed back in 2007, all convicted sexual offenders are required to share this information on their driver’s license or state ID card, or face possible felony charges. Here, the manner in which this information is shared can be subtle — the number 943.0435, printed on the bottom right — or far more blatant — the words “sex predator” emblazoned on the front of the ID.

While lawmakers and law enforcement officials touted this requirement as being necessary to protect the community, the unfortunate reality is that at least two otherwise innocent people have recently been victimized by mistakes made by state agencies:

  • In October 2012, the Duval County Tax Collector’s Office, a licensing agent for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, wrongly issued a man a state ID card with the aforementioned numbers labeling him as a sex offender. He didn’t find out about the mistake for five months.
  • In April 2015, an office of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles located in Lake County wrongly issued a woman a driver’s license with the term “sex predator” printed on the face.

These two people, understandably distraught by this mix up, eventually filed lawsuits against the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Here, it was revealed that all that separated an innocent person from receiving a wrongful designation as a sex offender was a misplaced click on a dropdown menu.

One of these lawsuits has since been settled, while the agency has now changed its software such that a pop-up box asks the worker to verify that the designation as a “sexual predator/offender/career offender” is correct.

It’s encouraging to see that the state made the necessary changes, but it begs the question as to why this mechanism wasn’t instituted in the first place.

Furthermore, as shocking as this story is, it goes to show just how serious the ramifications of a conviction on sex crime charges can be, and why it’s so important to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you find yourself arrested or under investigation.