County detective behind tougher state ID theft law

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Gov. Bill Haslam, seated, recently signed a bill that puts more teeth into Tennessee's law dealing with identity theft -- a law that originated at the sheriff's office. Watching the governor sign the bill were Detective Sgt. Brian Farris of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department, State Rep. Pat Marsh and State Sen. Jim Tracy. (Submitted photo)

A new law that strengthens how Tennessee deals with identity theft takes effect Friday, and it had its start at the Bedford County Sheriff's Department.

Gov, Bill Haslam recently put his signature to a bill which amends the state's current statute relating to ID theft, making sure that crooks from out of state can be nabbed for victimizing Tennessee residents.

But the original idea didn't come from one of Tennessee's legislators, but from Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Brian Farris. The problem were loopholes in Tennessee's laws dealing with cyber crime, He explained.

"Working a lot of identity theft cases, there was no jurisdiction," Farris said. "Bad guys were getting away with stuff ... falling through the cracks."

If your identity was stolen by someone out of state, using your credit card number to run up charges totalling thousands, in the past, officials from that jurisdiction would say "well, we don't have a victim, so we don't have a crime," Farris said.

The same would go for an ID theft victim here in Tennessee - if the crime occurred out of state, the crooks could not be prosecuted here either due to the jurisdictional issue.

But the new law closes that gap, and the ID theft can be prosecuted here in Tennessee, no matter where the crime originally occurred.

Getting it written

Farris contacted State Rep. Pat Marsh and State Sen. Jim Tracy to see what could be done to get the loophole closed.

They took Farris' idea and sat down with legal staff with the Tennessee Legislature and began to put it all down on paper.

Marsh introduced the bill to the House, where it passed 98-0. The same happened on the Senate side, where it was introduced by Tracy, and passed by an unanimous vote -- unopposed all the way through the process.

Haslam signed the bill into law on May 27, and it takes effect as of July 1 -- applying to offenses that occur on or after that date.

The detective said that everyone should experience the legislative process, not just read about it in history books or learning about it in a civics class.

"Everybody should go and watch how you take something, an idea that came from nothing, see it put on paper and then develop it, get it through subcommittees, and then put it on the floor for a full vote so that everybody can review or critique it," he said.

Farris also praised Marsh and Tracy for being "proactive" in getting the bill through the House and Senate to reach the governor's desk. "They really stepped up and took care of the citizens" in helping to get the law changed.