Special IDs for sex offenders: security measures or scarlet letters?
WASHINGTON – A Louisiana law required those convicted of sex crimes to use driver’s licenses with the words “sex offender” appearing in large, orange capital letters below their photographs.
It could make daily encounters – with bank tellers, hotel workers, supermarket cashiers, election officials, airport security guards and potential employers – humiliating. Critics have called the notation the scarlet letter of modern times. State officials said it was protecting the public from predators.
The Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the law last year, saying it violated the First Amendment. State officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, a case that presents important questions about public policy and First Amendment doctrine.
Sex offenders are subject to countless restrictions under state and federal laws, including having to register their addresses in public registers available on the Internet. In a petition calling for a review by the Supreme Court, state officials said that was not enough and that special IDs offered an added security measure.
“Under the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling, the public will not have an essential tool to identify sex offenders in the community,” the state petition said. “Online registries are insufficient to protect the interests of the state because people can easily give false names and deny their status. During storms and other emergencies, power outages and interrupted internet connections can make it impossible to check the registry online. “
The petition gave examples of why state ID cards should be marked, some more convincing than others. “People who cheat or treat on Halloween may need a quick way to verify that their children are safe from predators,” the brief said, although ask to see some ID before agreeing candy is not common.
Early in the case, in a 2019 hearing before a trial judge, a state attorney described a more plausible setting in which scoring could prove useful.
“If I decide who I want to be my babysitter,” said lawyer Shae McPhee, “and I know that I don’t want a sex offender to keep my kids, I say, ‘OK, I would. to see your ID before I give you permission to look after my children. ‘ And, ‘Oh, that says sex offender, I’m not going to hire you.’ “
The case involved Tazin Hill, who was released from prison in 2013 after serving a sentence for having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Three years later, while on his way to a sheriff’s office to update his address for the State’s Gender Offender Register, a police officer noticed something was wrong with his ID card . The words “sex offender” were deleted.
Mr. Hill was accused of forging his identity card to hide his status as a sex offender. He objected on the grounds of the First Amendment, and the trial judge ruled in his favor, immediately, from the bench.
- A big month. June is the peak season for Supreme Court rulings. It is the last month of the tribunal’s annual term, and judges tend to reserve their biggest decisions for the end of the term.
- 4 bass drums. The court is expected to rule on the fate of Obamacare, as well as a case that could determine dozens of laws dealing with electoral rules in the years to come. He’s also handling a case involving religion and gay rights and another on whether students can be penalized for what they say on social media (here’s an audio report on that; and here’s where public opinion stands on many of the big things).
- What to watch out for. The approaches taken by Amy Coney Barrett, the most recent of the judges, and Brett Kavanaugh, the second most recent. They will be crucial because the three liberal judges now need at least two of the six conservatives to form a majority. Before the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Liberals needed only one Conservative.
- Look forward. Next year’s term, which begins in the fall, will include cases on abortion, guns and possibly affirmative action, and could end up being the most important term to date under Chief Justice John Roberts.
Judge Patrick L. Michot, of the 15th District Judicial Court in Lafayette, Louisiana, said scoring was “not the least restrictive way to promote the state’s legitimate interest in notifying the forces of the ‘order”.
“It could be accomplished the same way some other states are using,” he said. “Louisiana could use more discreet labels in the form of codes known to law enforcement.”
Of the nine states that require some sort of disclosure of sex offender status on state ID cards, Louisiana and four others require that all registered offenders have cards with a variant of the words “sex offender,” according to a brief filed by Mr. Hill’s lawyers. Others use codes or symbols recognizable by law enforcement officials.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of Justice Michot, relying on US Supreme Court rulings prohibiting the government from compelling speech.
In 1977, for example, the court ruled that New Hampshire could not compel people to display plaques bearing the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die,” claiming that George Maynard, a Jehovah’s Witness, no. shouldn’t have been duct tape.
That the United States Supreme Court agree to hear the case, Louisiana v. Hill, No. 20-1587, may wonder if the judges think the lower courts disagree on the central legal question she poses. In the most directly analogous case, a federal trial judge in Alabama in 2019 struck down a law very similar to that in Louisiana for essentially the same reasons.
On the other hand, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the Federal District Court of Oakland, Calif., In 2016 dismissed a challenge to a federal law requiring passports to identify those convicted of sexual offenses involving sexual offenses. minors.
Passport notes are the talk of the government, Judge Hamilton wrote, and the government can usually say whatever it wants. “It is not the speech of the holder of the passport which is in question, nor is the speech of the holder of an identity card issued by the State in question with regard to identifiers such as the name , date of birth, height, weight or eye. color, ”she wrote.
Most recently, in December, Judge Marc T. Treadwell of the Federal District Court in Macon, Georgia, dismissed a First Amendment challenge against a sheriff’s practice of placing signs in front of the homes of registered sex offenders. on Halloween.
The signs were not forced speeches, Judge Treadwell wrote, because no one thinks “the resident agreed with the sign’s message: that trick-or-treating at their residence was dangerous.” He added that residents could use their free speech rights “by posting competing messages.”
In contrast, he wrote, Louisiana’s law “prohibiting modifications to a driver’s license made it virtually impossible for the accused to disassociate himself from the message or reject the message without being prosecuted.” .