The US Supreme Court today declined to hear Louisiana’s appeal against a ruling against the 2006 law requiring individuals on the state’s sex offender register to carry IDs or driver’s licenses that read “SEX OFFENDER” in orange capital letters . A year ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded that the requirement was tantamount to a forced speech and could not be justified by the state’s legitimate interest in protecting public safety. In addition to the issues of the First Amendment, the now doomed Louisiana Act illustrates the long-standing tendency under the guise of regulation to impose additional penalties on those convicted of sex offenses.
The registers themselves, which require sex offenders to regularly report their addresses to local law enforcement agencies so that information in online databases can be made publicly available, which also includes their names, photos and physical descriptions, are primarily punitive and set the Registrants of exclusion. Harassment and violence while hindering their rehabilitation by making it harder to find work and a home. There is little evidence that there are benefits to the type of public notification practiced by each state that outweigh these costs. Louisiana’s ritual humiliation experiment, in which registrants were identified with orange letters to show on any transaction that required government-issued identification, exacerbated that cost without offering it any plausible advantages.
One problem with sex offender registries is that they cover a wide range of offenses, including many that do not involve violence, violence or physical contact. While people tend to imagine rapists or child molesters when they hear the term Sex offender, Reality can be very different, in a way that is important in assessing the danger that a person may pose to the general public or to certain age groups.
In Louisiana, for example, registration not only applies to crimes such as rape and sexual assault, but also to non-violent offenses such as voyeurism, possession of child pornography, consensual sex between closely related adults, sex between high school teachers and students (even if the student has reached the age of majority ) and the employment of a minor in “any practice, exhibition or place that is dangerous or harmful to the life, body, health or morals of the minor”. Robert Suttle, who posted the picture of his driver’s license shown above, had to register because he was convicted of deliberately infecting someone with HIV, resulting in a six-month prison sentence. After a bad breakup, his former partner told the police that he had not been informed of Suttle’s HIV status.
The second line of each entry in the state register shows the offender’s “level”, which corresponds to various offenses classified by severity, from level 1 (least serious, registration required for 15 years) to level 3 (most serious, lifelong registration required). ). Further down the file you can see the law under which the registrant was convicted (ex. “Carnal knowledge of a juvenile”) but it may omit important details.
The driver’s license warning required by Louisiana’s law didn’t even have that much information, meaning anyone who saw it was told to assume the worst. Tazin Hill, the man who challenged the law, served his sentence in 2013. He was convicted of sex with a 14-year-old boy at age 32, placing him in Tier 1. But anyone who saw his driver’s license had no way of knowing the nature or gravity of his offense. Hill rebelled against this government-imposed badge of shame, removed the “SEX OFFENDER” label from his license and covered the void with clear tape, leading to the criminal charge that led to the case.
Another problem with sex offender registries is the mistaken assumption that people falling into this broad category are more likely to commit additional crimes than, for example, robbers, burglars or arsonists. In maintaining compulsory “treatment” for sex offenders in prison, for example, the Supreme Court relied on a highly dubious relapse estimate that was rejected by the original source but repeatedly cited by lower courts. The “SEX OFFENDER” stamp on Louisiana driver’s licenses, even more than registration, fueled such false fears by implying that the holder was a persistent threat regardless of the details of his crime, how long ago it was or how he behaved has been since he finished his sentence.
The empirically unfounded assumption that sex offenders are highly prone to relapse is particularly inaccurate and harmful when applied to persons convicted of minors who are on Louisiana’s registry and required to carry “SEXOFFENDER” IDs or driver’s licenses. Judy Mantin, who testified before a state legislative committee this year considering a revision of Louisiana law in light of the state’s Supreme Court ruling, said her son “made a mistake” at age 14 but today was ” a very productive citizen ”. She argued that “our children deserve a second chance in life”.
Legislators have allegedly passed the same judgment in relation to adults convicted of sex crimes and who, after serving their criminal convictions, have fictitiously settled their debts to society. However, the legislature implies otherwise by placing additional burdens on these people for decades after their official punishment. In this case, any interaction with a driver’s license – say, with cashiers, hotel clerks, bank employees, employers, landlords, election officials, or airport security officers – became a new invitation to fear and disgust at close range.
What was the rationale for this requirement, in addition to the burdens of registration, public viewing, and residence restrictions? The state argued that the label “SEX OFFENDER” made law enforcement easier by making police officers aware of a person’s status. But the police could already easily check this by consulting the state’s database. And, as the Louisiana Supreme Court found, the state could have eliminated even those minor inconveniences with a more discreet label: “A symbol, code, or lettering would alert law enforcement that you are dealing with a sex offender, and thereby reduce the unnecessary. ” Disclosure to others in everyday tasks. “
Such a solution was not appropriate, argued the state in its petition to the US Supreme Court, because “the Louisiana legislature came to the conclusion that the publicly, and not just law enforcement, needs to know about the status of a sex offender in certain circumstances. “How, for example?
“A property manager needs to know the status of a sex offender when renting an apartment – or the manager could be held liable if a tenant is raped on the premises,” the petition said. “A Red Cross church or agency may need to know a person’s status as a sex offender if it offers protection from a storm. People who do trick or treating on Halloween may need to quickly check that their children are safe from predators. “
During a hearing in a lower court, one of the state’s lawyers cited another example:
When I decide who wants to be my babysitter, and I know I don’t want a sex offender to babysit my kids, I say, “Okay. I want to see your ID before I allow you to take care of my kids.” And: “Oh, it’s called ‘sex offender’. I won’t hire you. “
The Halloween scenario suggests the state’s desperation, not only because this particular danger is an urban legend, but also because it’s hard to imagine a situation where parents would ask to see neighbors’ driving licenses, the sweets Distribute Trick or Treat. Even if the concerns are more justified, the public register is already allowed for better or for worse everyone to search for a person and see if they have been listed; that was supposedly the real purpose of creating a publicly accessible database.
“Louisiana’s trademark identification regime was an outlier when it came to publicly verbally abusing registrants,” Hill’s attorneys noted in their briefing in which they called on the Supreme Court to ignore the state’s appeal. “Only two other states require IDs to display phrases like ‘SEX OFFENDER’, while only six states have laws that require IDs to contain other forms of sex offense disclosure – usually an icon or statute number that is unique to the Law enforcement authorities is recognizable. “
Even as an outlier, Louisiana law shows how willing politicians are to support virtually any burden on sex offenders, whether or not it makes sense as a public safety tool. Policies like this serve no useful purpose, but they make the life of a reviled category of people whose punishment never ends.