The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review Louisiana’s appeal from a 2006 Louisiana law which required people who are on the state’s list of sex-offenders must display IDs (or driver’s licenses) that read “SEX OFFENDER”, in capital letters, and carry identifications. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that this requirement was compelled speech, and therefore could not be justified in the legitimate state interest to protect public safety. Louisiana’s moribund law, which raises First Amendment concerns, illustrates the long-standing trend to add punishment to those convicted for sex offences under the pretext of regulation.
These registries, which require sexual offenders to report their addresses regularly to local police agencies in order to make their information publically available online, including their photographs and names, also contain their physical descriptions and photos. They are designed to be punitive and expose registrants both to harassment and violence, as well as making it harder for them to get employment or housing. The benefits of the public notification system that each state uses are not evident to outweigh their costs. Louisiana’s practice of ritual humiliation in Louisiana, where registrants were branded with orange letters and required to show them in any transaction that required a government issued ID, added to these costs. Any plausible benefits.
The problem with the sex offenders registries, however, is their inability to cover all crimes. Although people are more likely to associate the term with child molesters or rapists, Sex offendersThe reality is often quite different. These are the things that make it difficult to assess the risk that someone poses to the public, or people of particular ages.
For example, Louisiana’s mandatory registration covers crimes such as sexual assault and rape, but it also applies to other offenses like voyeurism and possession of child pornography. It can also be used to register nonviolent offences, including voyeurism and sex among close relatives, students and teachers, and the employment of minors in any practice, exhibition or location that is dangerous or injurious for the life, limbs or health of the minor. Robert Suttle (pictured above with his driver’s licence) was required to register after he was found guilty of deliberately exposing someone HIV. This resulted him in six months imprisonment. His ex-partner, Suttle claims, told the police after a difficult breakup that Suttle had not informed him about his HIV status.
In each state’s register, the second line shows the “tier” of an offender. This refers to various crime categories arranged by severity. Tier 1 is the least serious (requires registration for only 15 years) and Tier 3 the most severe (requires lifetime registration). The statute the registrant was sentenced to (e.g. the “carnal ignorance of a child”) is further down the record. However, this information can still be important.
Louisiana’s driver’s license warning did not contain enough information to make it clear that everyone who saw it could assume the worst. Tazin Hill was sentenced to a year in prison for challenging the law. When he was 32 years old, he was found guilty of having sex at the age of 14 with another boy. This placed him in Tier 1. Anyone who looked at his license couldn’t know what the offense was. Hill refused to accept the badge of shame imposed by the government and took the “SEX OFFENDER” label off his license. Clear tape covered up the hole, leading to the criminal charges.
One problem with the sex offenders registries is that it assumes people falling into this category are more likely than others to be robbers or burglars. The Supreme Court used a dubious estimate of recidivism to support mandatory treatment of sex offenders in jail. This estimation was discredited by the original source, but it has been repeatedly cited by lower courts. Even more than the registry’s “SEX OFFENDER” stamp, the Louisiana driver’s licences carried the word “SEX OFFENDER”. This implied that the bearer was a continuing threat regardless of the details or the time it took place.
Particularly damaging is the belief that sex offenders are susceptible to recidivism, which is empirically unjustified. This applies to minor convicted offenders who were included in Louisiana’s Registry and must have “SEX OFENDER” driver’s licences and IDs. Judy Mantin testified this year before a Louisiana legislative committee, which was reviewing revisions to Louisiana law after the Supreme Court ruling. She said that her son made a “mistake” at 14 and is now a “very productive citizen”. She said that her children deserve another chance at life.
Ostensibly, legislators have reached the same conclusion regarding adult sex offenders who are thought to have paid their dues to society after they have completed their sentences. However, legislators make it seem that they are not implying this by placing additional burdens upon those individuals for many decades following their formal punishment. In this case, any interaction involving a driver’s license—e.g., with cashiers, hotel clerks, bank tellers, employers, landlords, election officials, or airport security screeners—became a new invitation to close-range fear and loathing.
Why was this required? What were the additional burdens of registration, public notice, residence restrictions, and other requirements? State argued that “SEX OFENDER” labels facilitate law enforcement because they alert police officers about a person’s gender. However, police could already check this information by looking at the state’s databases. The Louisiana Supreme Court pointed out that the state could have avoided this slight inconvenience by using a discreet label. “A symbol or code would indicate to law enforcement they are dealing with an sex offender, and reduce unnecessary disclosure to other people during daily tasks.”
In its U.S. Supreme Court petition, the state stated that such a solution is not appropriate because the “Louisiana Legislature” concluded that it was insufficient. publicNot only law enforcement but also the general public must know about a sex offenders’ status in certain circumstances.” This includes?
“A property manager needs to know a sex offender’s status when leasing an apartment—or the manager might incur liability if a tenant is raped on the premises,” the petition said. A church or Red Cross facility might need to be aware of a person’s status in order to provide shelter during a storm. Trick-or-treating children on Halloween might need to be able to quickly verify their kids are protected from predators.
A lower-court hearing was held when one of the state lawyers presented another example.
When I am deciding on who my babysitter is and I feel certain that it’s not a sex-offender, I will say “OK.” Before I let you babysit my kids, I would like to see your identification. The ID says “sex offenders”. “I’m not going hire you.”
It is hard to believe that parents could demand driver’s licenses from neighbors giving out candy for trick-or-treaters in Halloween. Even if there are greater concerns, the public registry has been allowed for years. AnyoneTo look up an individual to see if they are listed. This was, supposedly, the entire purpose of the public database.
“Louisiana’s branded-identification regime was an outlier in singling registrants out for public opprobrium,” Hill’s lawyers noted in their brief urging the Supreme Court not to consider the state’s appeal. “Just two other States require identification cards to display phrases like ‘SEX OFFENDER,’ while only six States have laws that require identification cards to include other types of sexual offense disclosure—typically a symbol or statute number recognizable only to law enforcement.”
Louisiana’s law is an extreme example of how open politicians will be to supporting any burden placed on sex offenders. These policies are not useful, but it makes life more difficult for those who have been convicted of crimes that never end.