March 30, 2012, New Orleans – Yesterday, one day after attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that individuals convicted prior to August 2011 under Louisiana’s “Crime Against Nature by Solicitation” (CANS) law should not have to register as sex offenders, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana agreed and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs. The statute was amended in August 2011 to no longer require those convicted of CANS to register, but the change was not made retroactive.
“The defendants fail to credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest that can rationally explain the registration requirement imposed on those convicted of Crime
Against Nature by Solicitation,” wrote Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “The Court is left with no other conclusion but that the relationship between the classification is so shallow as to render the distinction wholly arbitrary.”
“Today’s decision is a powerful vindication of our clients’ right to equal protection before the law. The court has agreed that they have been singled out for this harsh treatment without a legitimate or rational purpose, and that this cannot stand,” said Alexis Agathocleous, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Previously, people accused of soliciting sex for a fee in Louisiana could be criminally charged in two ways: either under the prostitution statute or under the solicitation provision of the Crime Against Nature statute. A CANS conviction carried harsher penalties than a prostitution conviction, including the sex-offender registration requirement. Police and prosecutors had unfettered discretion in choosing which to charge. Judge Feldman’s ruling holds that the discrepancy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
“Today’s ruling is a testament to the power and importance of speaking out for justice. Individuals marginalized by the CANS law told their stories, spearheading a campaign to change the law,” 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. “The people heard, the legislature heard, and now the courts have heard. Now we can move on to healing and renewal.”
Many of the plaintiffs in the case had been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several had been barred from homeless shelters, one had been physically threatened by a neighbor, and another had been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities.
“This is an important victory in light of the Department of Justice’s recent finding that this charge was being discriminatorily applied against poor Black women and transgender women and gay men,” said Andrea J. Ritchie, a police misconduct attorney who is co-counsel on the case. “It takes away a discriminatory tool used by police and prosecutors.”
Plaintiffs are represented by CCR, police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice, and pro bono counsel Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP.