NJ bill to prevent ID theft by crime suspects

March 22, 2009 8:20:17 AM PDT
Donna Judson has been cited for soliciting a trucker for sex at a Travelodge hotel, driving with stolen license plates, and attempting to buy drugs. She's been summoned to court several times, and was once handcuffed and hauled away in a police cruiser.

Judson, a suburban Philadelphia married mother of three, didn't commit the crimes. But thanks to a relative who kept giving police Judson's name and address, she's been repeatedly forced in recent years to prove her innocence in court.

"I've never done anything wrong in my life," said Judson, a 42-year-old youth gymnastics teacher.

Her local Assemblyman was also shocked to hear what happened after Judson and her husband called his office for help. At the time, Donna Judson had just been arrested for two warrants in her name.

"My initial reaction was, 'How could that be?"' said Paul Moriarty, D-Turnersville.

A bill co-sponsored by Moriarty aims to prevent this kind of identity theft, which authorities say can happen to anyone.

Under the bill, the state attorney general would develop guidelines for local police to follow when trying to verify a criminal suspect's identity. Approved last March by the Assembly, the bill is waiting to be heard in the Senate.

Police can verify a suspect's identity several ways, including checking the person's fingerprints in state and federal databases. But there is no statewide standard list of procedures, which the pending Senate bill calls for, according to Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

Judson's relative, whose name Judson asked be withheld, has been sentenced to prison for theft, drug possession and forgery, according to state records.

Judson said the relative began using her name roughly 10 years ago to obtain prescription drugs, and since then has given it to police several times.

She has always cleared her name in court and has never served prison time, but came close to going behind bars when she was arrested last January.

Driving 40 mph in a 25 mph speed zone in Haddonfield, Judson was pulled over. She expected a speeding ticket and to be back on the road within minutes.

When the officer stayed in his car a long time with her driver's license, insurance and registration, she became nervous.

"Am I wanted for a crime," Judson wondered. "Did she use my name again?"

The relative had, and as a result, Judson had warrants in her name for suspected prostitution and attempting to buy drugs. Her left ankle was soon shackled to a bench in the hallway of the Haddonfield Police Department as she awaited transfer to Camden County jail.

Judson called her husband, who had to pick up the relative and bring her to the Camden police department - where the warrants were issued - to fess up.

Although the relative admitted to giving police false information, a police sergeant said the matter would have to be cleared up in court. Luckily, Haddonfield police looked further into Judson's claims, and she was released without having to pay a $800 bail.

Judson eventually cleared the matter in court, but her problems may not be over.

She worries that a criminal background check could find the warrants or court orders, preventing her from working with children. She's also concerned her credit rating could tumble.

Until the legislation passes, Judson has one plan for avoiding arrest: "I drive real slow," she said.

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