Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Wary Daters May Get Help

Bill would create a web site to check abuse records
 
Here's a new twist to the dating game – instant background checks.

Asked out? Not so fast.

Before saying yes or no, you could do a push-button check of domestic violence records under a new bill being considered by California lawmakers.

The measure, believed to be the first of its kind, would set the stage for mixing high-tech gadgetry with crime prevention to create a different kind of sexual revolution.

A woman who meets someone interesting in a nightclub, for example, could adjourn to a restroom and use a text messager to determine instantly whether her suitor has a history of dating violence.

Parents or friends wary of a loved one's paramour could confirm or ease their suspicions, at no cost, with the push of a few buttons.

A live-in lover whose mate suddenly explodes in anger would have somewhere to turn for key information about character.

"Obviously, knowledge is power," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. "If you encounter someone who you think is a little bit creepy, you would have the ability to check."

Ma's proposal, Assembly Bill 1771, would require the state attorney general to create a searchable Web site to identify people convicted of one felony or two misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.

The goal is to provide a resource similar to the state's existing Megan's Law Web site, which identifies sex offenders.

A key difference between the two, however, is that AB 1771 would not display photographs or addresses of offenders.

Francisco Lobaco, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he has not read AB 1771. But if the goal is to protect the public, he asked, why single out domestic abuse rather than crimes that target victims randomly?

"Why not assault with a deadly weapon? Why not robberies?" Lobaco asked.

Others fear that AB 1771 might produce some unintended consequences by unfairly tainting someone whose name was posted by mistake, or by providing a false sense of security if a violent person were left off the database because past offenses went unreported or victims recanted.

"There also might be a privacy risk," said Lisa Ikemoto, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. "If you identify the person who was the perpetrator, then you can infer who the victim was. I think that's a serious problem."

AB 1771 would require publication of the names of domestic violence offenders, their ages, and the dates and counties of their convictions, which is basic information that could be used to request county court files.

Offenders' names would be removed from the Web site if they did not commit similar crimes for 10 years.

Technical details have yet to be fleshed out, such as whether searches could be done by geographic area or only by name, and if the latter, whether a full name or birth date would be needed.

Students and others interviewed randomly Monday at California State University, Sacramento, had mixed views.

Aisha Wright, 32, said that a former boyfriend was physically abusive and that she wishes a Web site had been available when she met him.

"Definitely, without a doubt," she said.

Kortny McCarter, 24, applauded the concept of AB 1771 but said she doubted many women would be guided by it.

"Most women trust their instincts," she said.

Jim Sweet, 41, said the legislation should apply only to multiple offenses, because someone conceivably could be convicted of felony domestic violence in a fight that he or she didn't start.

"I'd have to say I have mixed feelings," he said of AB 1771.

The size of the database that would be created is unclear. More than 17,300 people were convicted in California on felony domestic abuse charges in 2006, records show. But the number of misdemeanor convictions, or repeat offenders, is not readily available.

Attorney Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who now practices civil rights law, pitched the concept of a domestic violence Web site to Ma in response to a double murder he once prosecuted.

Nadga Schexnayder and her mother were shot to death in 1995 by Ronnie Earl Seymour, a former boyfriend of Nadga's who had a 20-year history of violence against women. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the double homicide, Hammer said.

"The family had suspicions that he was a bad character and might have a history, but they could never really find out," Hammer said.

"The reality is, if you're rich, you can hire a private investigator to go to courthouses across California and just pull up records," he said. "They're public records. But working people and poor people don't have the resources."

Attorney General Jerry Brown has taken no position on AB 1771, which has not yet been subject to public hearings or cost analysis.

Funding for AB 1771 would be generated by imposing higher fines on domestic violence convictions. The bill also would make it easier to obtain restraining orders based on past offenses and would require counties to provide details about court cases at no charge to the public.