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Identifying Sex Offenders Via Their Passports: Is the Unique Identifier on the Passport Constitutional?

September 15, 2016, on Sex Crimes |

In February of 2016, President Barack Obama signed a law into effect which affects the ability of convicted sex offenders to travel. The law requires that a unique identifier be included by the U.S. State Department on the passports of convicted offenders.  The law also gives the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the authority to provide notice to foreign countries if an American who has been convicted of a sex offense plans to travel abroad.

This law was a controversial one and seven convicted sex offenders filed a lawsuit challenging these provisions of the legislation, which is called International Megan's Law to Prevent Exploitation and Other Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders.  The case came before a judge in a federal court recently, according to ABC 10.

The law is yet one more example of the increasing restrictions being imposed and the increasing penalties being heaped upon sex offenders who already face very severe consequences for criminal acts. As more and more laws target people accused of sex offenses, anyone who is charged with a crime will need a Schenectady criminal defense attorney to help fight those charges.

Should Convicted Sex Offenders Have a Mark on their Passport?

According to the Wall Street Journal, plaintiffs who are challenging the provisions of the International Megan's Law argue that the law violates the U.S. Constitution. They claim that those who have been convicted of a sex offense are essentially being forced to put a “scarlet letter” on their passports, in violation of First Amendment protections against compelled speech. 

According to the plaintiff's lawsuit, the law is the first time in history that the U.S. government is using a document “foundational to citizenship” to stigmatize a disfavored group.

It has long been the practice of the U.S. government to provide notice to foreign governments in certain cases when a sex offender is traveling frequently to a particular country. The U.S. has participated in a program called Operation Angel Watch for about a decade, which involves providing these alerts to help combat child sex tourism. 

The law signed by President Obama allegedly codifies this practice into law. Supporters of the requirement indicate that the requirements imposed by the law are important to help countries with limited resources deal with so-called child predators.

The problem, however, is that not every sex offender on the registry is a “child predator,” even if they have been convicted of a sex crime involving a minor. As ABC 10 reports, many people are on the registry for relatively minor crimes or were put on the registry for offenses committed when they were children. 

Even adults on the registry who committed more serious offenses may not pose a threat, as recidivism rates for male sex offenders are estimated by some sources at only around 14 percent, according to ABC 10.

Putting a mark on a passport of someone just because he or she happens to be on the registry may have few or no actual benefits in combatting global sex crimes. It would also make the U.S. the only nation in the world to stamp the passport of a sex offender.  There are many justifiable questions about whether the U.S. should take this action.

It remains to be seen whether the court determines the requirements are constitutional or not. Regardless of the court decision, it is important for anyone who has been accused of a sex crime to get help from a skilled criminal defense attorney as new efforts are made to abridge the rights of convicted offenders. Contact The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC today to discuss your legal rights and options.

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