Louisiana Supreme Court Rules ‘Sex Offender’ ID Unconstitutional
In Louisiana, people convicted of certain sex crimes are required to carry a state-issued ID card with the words "SEX OFFENDER" printed on it in orange capital letters. The state's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that this requirement is unconstitutional.
The 6-1 ruling upholds a ruling by a state judge in Lafayette who last year threw out a charge filed against a man who altered his card to remove the label.
Attorneys for the state argued that the state had a legitimate interest in having that information on the ID card -- to let law enforcement officers know the cardholder's criminal history.
However, Justice James Genovese, writing for the majority, said there are other ways for law enforcement to be informed of the person's criminal record than requiring them to show this branded card every time a government ID was needed to be produced.
“A symbol, code, or a letter designation would inform law enforcement that they are dealing with a sex offender and thereby reduce the unnecessary disclosure to others during everyday tasks,” Genovese wrote.
He added that the state has a sex offender registry and other ways of notifying the public without making the offender repeatedly have to self-identify as one every time an ID needs to be produced.
“As Louisiana has not used the least restrictive means of advancing its otherwise compelling interest, the branded identification requirement is unconstitutional,” Genovese wrote.
The one dissenting judge, Justice William Crain, argued that the speech involved is the government's, not the defendant's.
“The speaker is the government: the words are stamped by a governmental agency on a government-issued identification card in accordance with a government enacted statute,” Crain wrote. “This is the embodiment of government speech.”