Louisiana attorneys may know this week whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review a case this term involving a state statute that compels people convicted of sex crimes to carry cards identifying them as sex offenders.
High court justices were culling through possible cases to review in the fall starting Monday morning, including one in which former 15th Judicial District Judge Patrick Michot Sr. ruled in 2019 in favor of Tazin A. Hill, formerly of Duson, a convicted sex offender who altered his state-issued identification card to remove the words “SEX OFFENDER,” written in orange, from his state issued ID.
Michot has since retired from the bench.
Hill’s initial crime — he pleaded guilty in 2010 to having sex with a 14-year-old girl while he was 32 — is not at issue. In 2013, he completed a mandated three years in state custody for the sex charge, carnal knowledge of a juvenile, to which he had entered a guilty plea.
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But the state compels such sex offenders to carry cards or driver licenses that clearly ID them to others as sex offenders. In Louisiana, that can include showing the state-issued card not only to law enforcement officers but to others in transacting much of their daily business.
When Hill reported to the Lafayette Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 5, 2016 to update his ID card, deputies saw he had eliminated the words “sex offender” on the card and taped over the space. Penalties for defacing the card could have ranged from two to 10 years in prison with a fine of up to $1,000.
Michot agreed with Hill and his attorneys that the state ID card was not the “least restrictive way” to notify law enforcement officers that Hill is a sex offender. Then District Attorney Keith Stutes notified Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office of the district court outcome, and the Attorney General’s office pressed an appeal — unsuccessfully — to the state Supreme Court, which affirmed Michot’s ruling in late December. The AG’s office then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hill and his attorneys contend that the mandated ID card reveals him as a convicted sex offender while carrying out necessary tasks and chores in everyday life. Such ID cards, they say, provide “unremitting and diffuse broadcast” of the card holder’s criminal past. Further, they say, identification as a sex offender is “compelled speech” because the state mandates that the card holder must carry and display the card routinely, which bears the state’s chosen message — “sex offender.”
The state, in turn, says the speech is not Hill’s but rather its own and that the message “sex offender” serves the public’s interest by helping members of the public protect themselves, which is an essential operation of the state. It also says that the cards must be shown only on rare occasions.
“Children die when recidivistic sex offenders hide their status,” the state says in court documents.
The state says that other states have similar laws; opponents say that most states have ID cards with codes on them that are plain to law enforcement officers but not to the general public.
The state is represented by Elizabeth B. Murrill, the state’s solicitor general.
Murrill said the state has raised important points in its appeal. She said if the court accepts the case, both sides would file additional briefs before oral arguments would be scheduled.
Hill is represented by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. His attorney of record is Richard Bourke.