A Presumption of Constitutionality

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently upheld as constitutional two statutes requiring the registration of sex offenders even when applied to a person who was found not guilty by reason of insanity. See State of Louisiana v. Isaiah Overstreet, Jr., 12 – 1854 (La. 3/19/13). While an ultimate resolution of this issue would cause the Court to measure the asserted personal interests of the defendant against the public’s interest in safety, the defendant’s challenges were rejected because he failed to properly raise and brief the constitutional issues.

In Overstreet, it was factually established that the defendant attempted to force himself upon co-eds at two universities. After his arrest, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic and consistently denied any recollection of the crimes. Overstreet was found not guilty by reason of insanity and continued in state-run mental facilities for over a decade until filing a Motion to be Released in 2010. The motion was denied as a consequence of his refusal to participate in sex offender treatment.

When he inquired about the potential release to a group home, he was advised that he would have to register as a sex offender. He then moved to declare LSA-R.S. 15:541(7) and 15:542 (the sex offender registration statutes) unconstitutional.

The Trial Court struck down the statutes as an affront to the Louisiana Constitution, giving conflicting oral and written reasons in support of the ruling. The Trial Court later explained in a per curiam opinion that the primary concern is one of capacity and that it would be unjust to require registration from one lacking capacity to do so.

At the Supreme Court, the defense attorney argued that an application of the registration statutes to Overstreet would violate due process and equal protection because he had not been convicted as a sex offender. In response, the State argued that a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is not equivalent to an acquittal and that the registration statutes are not punitive but instead are designed to protect the public. The State contended that the defendant was a “sex offender” irrespective of the not guilty by reason of insanity defense.

The Louisiana Supreme Court did not address the merits of these positions. Instead, the Court held that the defendant had not sufficiently particularized the grounds for a constitutional challenge. The Court reasoned that legislation is presumed constitutional. As a result, if a party desires to challenge the constitutionality of a statute, that party must raise the unconstitutionality and specifically plead the basis of the alleged unconstitutionality.

The Overstreet Court reversed the Trial Court because it is the challenger’s duty to sufficiently raise the constitutional objections. In so doing, the Court disregarded the Trial Court’s sua sponte ruling (“on its own motion”) that the sex offender registration statutes were unconstitutional because the Trial Court did not have the authority to raise these challenges.

While Overstreet did not resolve the ultimate issues of the constitutionality of the sex offender statutes in this setting, it did define the issues which would likely guide its decision should the issue ever be properly raised before the Court.


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