In Louisiana, it is statutorily mandatory for convicted sex offenders to carry identification cards with the words ‘SEX OFFENDER’ branded on them. The Supreme Court invalidated this requirement.
The Trial Court’ verdict, declared this compulsion as unconstitutional, as it comprises of compelled speech and hence, violates the strict scrutiny analysis of the First Amendment. This verdict was passed with a 2:1 majority.
The Department of Public Safety and Corrections issues these special identification cards. It is mandatory to carry the card at all times. The words ‘SEX OFFENDER’ in all capital letters, in an orange font are included. Every person convicted of a sex crime, has to obtain a card, that contains a restriction code with the declaration that the person possessing the card, is a sex offender. Registering as a sex offender is mandatory. Hiding this designation, is illegal.
A motion was filed, by Tazin Ardell Hill claiming these requirements are unconstitutional. He was in the process of being convicted for sex crimes. He illegally altered his ID card and attempted to hide that he was a registered sex offender. While he pleaded not guilty, he appealed to quash the proceedings against him and questioned the constitutionality of this compulsion. The District Court allowed this motion. The Court held that the State’s interest in facilitating law enforcement was not best served by mandating these words to be included on an official identification card.
The Supreme Court looked into the determination of whether this branding of identity card led to compelled speech in an appeal. Using precedents, they decided that an imposed obligation should be scrutinized.
The least restrictive methods to protect the public and aid law enforcement had not been put into practice, was stated by Justice Genovese, writing for the majority. Instead of blatantly using the words, other options such as symbols, codes or a letter designation would suffice. They would decrease the unnecessary disclosure to persons of the public while keeping the law enforcement informed. The Registry containing the names of sex offenders, is accessible to anyone who needs the information. Hence, this branding was declared unnecessary and unconstitutional.