The Louisiana Supreme Court has struck down the statutory requirement of making persons convicted of sex offenses carry an identification card branded with the words "SEX OFFENDER'.
While upholding the Trial Court ruling, the Court (2:1 majority) held that this requirement constitutes compelled speech and does not survive a First Amendment strict scrutiny analysis and therefore unconstitutional.
As per the state regulations, a person convicted of a sex offense has to obtain a special identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections which shall contain a restriction code declaring that the holder is a sex offender. This special identification card will include the words "sex offender" in all capital letters which are orange in color. This special identification card is supposed to be carried on the person at all times by the holders. Failure to register and notify as a sex offender is an offence.
Tazin Ardell Hill, a person who was convicted for sex offences, was being prosecuted for altering his official identification card to conceal his designation as a registered sex offender. He pleaded not guilty and filed a motion to quash the prosecution on the ground that the rules mandating such requirements are unconstitutional. Allowing his motion, the District Court held that the requirement that the offender have "sex offender" written on his official state identification is not the least restrictive way to further the State's legitimate interest of notifying law enforcement.
In Appeal, the Supreme Court considered the issue whether branded identification card requirement is determining whether this obligation amounts to government speech or compelled speech. Referring to various judgments, the court held that the obligation imposed is a compelled speech and should pass strict scrutiny. Justice Genovese said:
"While the state certainly has a compelling interest in protecting the public and enabling law enforcement to identify a person as a sex offender, Louisiana has not adopted the least restrictive means of doing so. 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. The sex offender registry and notification is available to those who have a need to seek out that information, while also not unnecessarily requiring disclosing that information to others via a branded identification. As Louisiana has not used the least restrictive means of advancing its otherwise compelling interest, the branded identification requirement is unconstitutional."
Justice Weimer, in his concurring opinion, noted that, the state offered no evidence proving that the branded identification card effectively alleviates any harm that might be inflicted on the public, or that it is the least restrictive means of furthering its stated interest.
Justice Craig, in his dissenting opinion, observed that the requirement is not First Amendment protected speech. "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. This is the embodiment of government speech.. No reasonable observer, when looking at the identification card, will conclude the defendant chose to promote his status as a convicted sex offender by voluntarily procuring and personalizing a state-issued identification card to declare that information for the world.", the judge said.
Case name: STATE OF LOUISIANA vs. TAZIN ARDELL HILL
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