NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s requirement that people convicted of certain sex crimes carry a state-issued ID card with the words “SEX OFFENDER” printed on it in orange capital letters is unconstitutional, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The 6-1 ruling upholds a decision 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.
State attorneys had argued that the state had a legitimate interest in having the information on the ID card: to let law enforcement officers know the cardholder’s criminal history.
But Justice James Genovese, writing for the majority, said there are less restrictive ways to inform law enforcement than requiring someone to show the branded card every time they are required to produce a government ID.
“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 methods of notifying the public without compelling the offender to repeatedly self-identify as one every time an ID must 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.
Justice William Crain dissented, arguing 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.”