U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Oklahoma's Sex Offender Driver License Law Upheld

In the state of Oklahoma, a person convicted of an aggravated sex offense is required to get a driver license that has a marking indicating that they are an aggravated sex offender. Ray Carney is one such offender, and he filed a lawsuit ahead of his release to try to avoid this punishment. And while this level of punishment is more than just the Hawthorn-ian Scarlet Letter of sorts, it was dismissed at the federal court level and won nothing in or on appeal.

The offender argued that the compulsory requirement violated his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court considered each claim briefly, but in the end it upheld the Oklahoma licensing requirement.

No Relief for the Convicted

In short, the court found that Oklahoma's statutory requirement was valid. In response to the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim, the court found it without merit. It explained that the requirement is neither cruel, nor unusual, nor even disproportionate. And while the circuit court explains that Carney is not being treated equally to other criminals who must register, it did find that the state had a valid rational basis for passing the law.

The First Amendment claim was first raised on appeal, and unfortunately for the pro se litigant, the appellate court would not even touch the merits of that argument. Rather, it explained that due to the procedural posture, considering the argument was not appropriate for the appellate court. 

Carney pled with the court to adopt a higher level of scrutiny for his Fourteenth Amendment claim based upon the belief that the law was passed with animus towards sex offenders. However, the court did not find that argument convincing, but did not close the door forever, as it explicitly stated that future laws targeting sex offenders could trigger heightened scrutiny.

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