Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Victory! Sex Workers Removed From Louisiana Sex Offender Registry

From our friends at Women With A Vision and Center for Constitutional Rights:

Louisiana to Remove Hundreds of Individuals Unconstitutionally Placed on Sex Offender Registry

Last night, in a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel, a settlement with Louisiana was finalized that will remove from the sex offender registry approximately 700 individuals who had been required to register solely because of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) conviction.  Today’s settlement follows a ruling last year in a related case that found the CANS registration requirement unconstitutional. Despite that ruling, hundreds of people convicted of CANS remained on the registry.  CCR filed a class action on their behalf, which led to today’s settlement.

“We are gratified that the state has agreed to vindicate the rights of hundreds of people who continued to be unconstitutionally registered as sex offenders,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous.  “This registration requirement has disproportionately affected African American women and LGBT individuals who will now – finally – be able to begin to rebuild their lives.”

When charging someone for soliciting oral or anal sex for a fee, police and prosecutors in Louisiana have unfettered discretion in choosing whether to charge someone with prostitution or CANS.  Until 2011, however, only a CANS conviction required sex offender registration. The court previously held application of the sex offender registration requirement to nine individuals unconstitutional because it imposed different consequences for a CANS conviction than a prostitution conviction for exactly the same conduct, without any rational basis. 

“I am overjoyed.  This is truly an historic moment. Justice has prevailed and dignity has been restored to the women and men who have been denied their basic human rights for so long. We celebrate this true collaboration of community, affected individuals, and the amazing lawyers that together made a difference,” said Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With A Vision, a community-based organization in New Orleans that has led advocacy efforts around this issue. 

People affected by this law have been barred from homeless shelters, physically threatened, and refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities.  As in the earlier case, all plaintiffs in this action proceeded anonymously for fear of retaliation.

“The lingering injustice, resulting from over 20 years of discriminatory enforcement of this law at police and prosecutors’ whims, will now finally come to an end,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel to CCR in Doe v. Jindal and Doe v. Caldwell.  “The State of Louisiana will now finally bring its conduct into compliance with the Constitution and the court’s prior rulings. This is an unqualified victory for Black women, poor women, and LGBTQ people who fought back against injustice and won.”

Plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP, police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice. 

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