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Groups Challenge Disparate Punishment Under Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Law
NEW YORK - February 16 - Today, attorneys filed a federal civil rights suit in New Orleans on behalf of nine anonymous plaintiffs convicted under Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature law and forced to register as sex offenders as a result. The case challenges the continuing use of Louisiana’s 206 year-old Crime Against Nature statute to brand people who solicit oral and anal sex as sex offenders, while a conviction under Louisiana’s prostitution statute triggers no such requirement. The case was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., and the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in the United States District Court Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans. The groups held a press conference with allied organizations at the New Orleans federal courthouse and a telephone press briefing this morning.
Said CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous, “A Crime Against Nature by Solicitation conviction involves acts that are historically associated with homosexuality and gets you branded as a sex offender simply because of disapproval of those acts. This archaic law is being used to mark people with a modern-day scarlet letter without any justification. Our clients pose no threat to anyone. None of them has ever been convicted of a sex offense involving children, violence, or force. Their inclusion on the sex offender registry violates basic constitutional equal protection principles and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”
In Louisiana, people accused of soliciting sex for a fee can be criminally charged in two ways: either under the prostitution statute, or under the solicitation provision of the Crime Against Nature statute. This statute, adopted in 1805, outlaws “unnatural carnal copulation,” which has been defined by Louisiana courts as oral and anal (but not vaginal) sex – sex acts historically associated with homosexuality. A prostitution conviction is a misdemeanor, but a Crime Against Nature conviction subjects people to far harsher penalties. Most significantly, individuals convicted of a Crime Against Nature are forced to register as sex offenders for 15 years. Multiple convictions require them to register for life.
Said co-counsel Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the just-published book, Queer Injustice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, “Police and prosecutors have complete discretion and are given no guidance whatsoever as to when and who to charge with a Crime Against Nature, and when and who to charge with prostitution. This leaves the door wide open to discriminatory enforcement targeting poor Black women, transgender women, and gay men for a charge that carries much harsher penalties. That decision can change the entire course of a person’s life.” Added Ritchie, “The trend around the country is to recognize and address the high levels of violence and poverty experienced by people in the sex industry. This law runs completely counter to that trend and further victimizes people, rather than providing them with much-needed services.”
Seventy-five percent of the people registered as a sex offender as a result of a Crime Against Nature conviction are women, and 80 percent of them are African American. They all must carry a state driver’s license or non-driver’s identification document emblazoned with the words SEX OFFENDER in bright orange capital letters. They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches. Their names, addresses, and photographs appear on the internet. They are required to mail postcards notifying every person in their neighborhood.
Said one plaintiff, “When you mail those cards it’s so humiliating, people kill you for that. I fear for my safety.”
The plaintiffs in the case chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
Said a mother of three who was convicted under the statute in the 90’s, “Because my picture and address are up on the internet with my charge, a guy once came by my house looking for sex.”
Many of the plaintiffs have been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several have been barred from homeless shelters. One had rocks thrown at her by neighbors. And another has been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept sex offenders at their facilities.
Said Deon Haywood, Executive Director of the New Orleans-based organization, Women With a Vision, “I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. Many of these women are survivors of rape and domestic violence themselves, many have struggled with addiction and poverty, yet they are being treated as predators.What this law does is completely disconnect them from our community and from what remains of a social safety net, making it impossible for them to recognize and develop their goals and dreams.”
Said co-counsel Prof. Davida Finger of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, “This case is so important for Louisiana—we’re out of step with the rest of the country and it’s time to end this practice that has such terrible consequences.”
The nine plaintiffs in the case are not alone. Almost 40 percent of registered sex offenders in Orleans Parish are on the registry solely as a result of a conviction of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation. The lawsuit argues that being forced to register as a sex offender because of a Crime Against Nature conviction – the only offense requiring registration that includes no element of force, coercion, lack of consent, use of a weapon, or the involvement of a minor – serves no legitimate purpose. As such, say attorneys, it is unjustifiable and unconstitutional.
For more information about the Doe v. Jindal, please visit the case page here: www.ccrjustice.org/crime-against-nature.
To read a policy brief on the Crime Against Nature by Solicitation law, visit the website of Women With A Vision's http://wwav-no.org.