Brooklyn Law Review


The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act has been criticized since its inception as excessively punitive, a poor means of preventing sex crimes, and an invasion of basic privacy rights. There are currently eight states that require registered sex offenders to carry branded identification cards (IDs) that mark their registrant status. These markings range anywhere from a letter or symbol on the face of the card, to the words “SEXUAL OFFENDER” or “SEXUAL PREDATOR” in bright red or orange letters. Registrants are forced to share this private and harmful information to the unknowing and presumably uninterested public, including pharmacists, hotel concierge, and bank tellers. States have required their citizens to display information they would not otherwise display, thereby directly infringing on the First Amendment rights of registrants to be protected from compelled speech. As a result, registrants are shamed, humiliated, and denied their rights to privacy, thereby further isolating and ostracizing this already vulnerable group. This public labeling and shaming has the potential to increase recidivism rates by hindering opportunities for the rehabilitation and reintegration of registrants post-incarceration. This note argues that the Supreme Court’s failure to affirmatively hold these branded IDs as unconstitutional compelled speech promotes an acceptance and normalization of sex offender laws that have historically sought to shame registrants, hiding behind the guise of promoting safe communities. This note further proposes that all registration requirements that expose one’s registered status to the public, including branded IDs and community notification practices, should be repealed and replaced with discrete local law enforcement monitoring based on an individualized assessment of a registrant’s risk of reoffense, accompanied by community-based comprehensive reintegration plans.