U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Louisiana’s Defense of a Law That Stamped ‘SEX OFFENDER’ on Driver’s Licenses

  • The policy imposed an additional form of ritual humiliation without any plausible public-safety justification.
  • Little evidence that registries do any good, and a lot of evidence that they do harm.
  • Registries expose people to government-sanctioned hatred and violence.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, October 4, 2021 declined to hear Louisiana’s appeal of a decision against its 2006 law requiring that people on the state’s sex offender registry carry IDs or driver’s licenses that say “SEX OFFENDER” in orange capital letters. A year ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded that the requirement amounted to compelled speech and could not be justified by the state’s legitimate interest in protecting public safety. In addition to raising First Amendment issues, Louisiana’s now-moribund law illustrates the longstanding tendency to impose additional punishment on people convicted of sex offenses in the guise of regulation.

The registries themselves, which require sex offenders to regularly report their addresses to local law enforcement agencies so that information can be made publicly available in online databases that also include their names, photographs, and physical descriptions, are primarily punitive, exposing registrants to ostracism, harassment, and violence while impeding their rehabilitation by making it difficult to find employment and housing. There is little evidence that the sort of public notification practiced by every state delivers benefits that outweigh those costs. Louisiana’s experiment in ritual humiliation, which branded registrants with orange letters they had to display in every transaction that required producing a government-issued ID, compounded those costs without offering any plausible benefits.

Read Jacob Sullum’s REASON article.

Michigan Supreme Court: Registry Unconstitutional Punishment

  • Michigan’s highest court rules against retroactive application.
  • Provisions at issue are similar to changes enacted in Nebraska in 2009.
  • Ruling cites state and federal prohibitions on ex-post-facto laws.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, that requirements of the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act are an unconstitutional punishment for a man convicted years before the registry took effect.

The man’s attorney said the ruling in the Muskegon County case would impact others who were convicted before registry rules were amended in 2011.

The Supreme Court found that the 2011 statute was an unconstitutional “ex post facto” law that retroactively punished conduct, rather than an effort to promote public safety.

“We are asked to decide whether the retroactive application of Michigan’s Sex Offenders Act (as amended in 2011) … violates state and federal constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws,” the Supreme Court wrote.

“We hold that it does.”

Legislators enacted the state registry in 1994 as a confidential database for police. Certain offenders had to register and report address changes. The registry underwent changes and in 1997 became accessible to the public at police stations. It later went online.

The 2011 law required offenders to provide additional personal information, with changes in address or email, purchase of vehicles or travel, reported within three days, in-person.

The 2011 changes to Michigan law are similar to changes that were enacted in 2009 and put into effect under LB 285 in Nebraska.

A significant finding in the Michigan ruling:

“Defendant—as well as his similarly situated counterparts throughout the nation— endeavors to demonstrate that the dangerousness of sex offenders has been historically overblown and that, in fact, sex offenders are actually less likely to recidivate than other offenders. Further, he argues that sex-offender registries have dubious efficacy in achieving their professed goals of decreasing recidivism. A growing body of research supports these propositions. . . . For our limited purpose in examining the potential excessiveness of the 2011 SORA in regard to its public-safety purpose, these studies demonstrate that, at minimum, the 2011 SORA’s efficacy is unclear. Given the uncertainty of the 2011 SORA’s efficacy, the restraints it imposed were excessive. Over 40,000 registrants were subject to the 2011 SORA’s requirements without any individualized assessment of their risk of recidivism. The duration of an offender’s reporting requirement was based solely on the offender’s conviction and not the danger he individually posed to the community. Registrants remained subject to SORA—including the stigma of having been branded a potentially violent menace by the state—long after they had completed their sentence, probation, and any required treatment.”

Read the full story

Read the Opinion

Third-Monday FEARLESS is well attended

Twenty-five people attended FEARLESS-Omaha on Monday, July 19, at St. Michael Lutheran Church.

It was the first time since the pandemic shutdown in the spring of 2020 that the nation’s first-ever FEARLESS group met in-person. (The second Saturday group, which meets at Holy Family Church in downtown Omaha, has been meeting in person for two months. Attendance at the second Saturday group is significantly smaller than the third Monday group).

There was no guest speaker for the July 19 meeting. Participants used the meeting for re-introductions and to get caught up after the year of the pandemic.

Topics discussed included the extra-legal home-invasive compliance checks carried out by law enforcement, and the sentence that was given to the man who planned and carried out the murder of Mattieo Condoluci.

On the subject of compliance checks, the group was reminded to download and use the Nebraskans Unafraid Compliance Check Guide.

If you would like to be added to the list to receive notifications of upcoming FEARLESS meetings, please let us know by sending an email to nunafrd@gmail.com with the subject line “FEARLESS Email List” and the email address to which you want the monthly notifications sent.