NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge has ruled the state of Louisiana cannot introduce evidence collected for a criminal trial to help its case defending a law barring those under 21 from stripping under certain circumstances.
Three erotic dancers, all under 21, sued the state after it introduced a law barring fully nude dancing in establishments where alcohol is served.
But the dancers argued the law is unconstitutional as it infringes on their right to make a living, and on their freedom of expression. The law is suspended pending the outcome of the federal case.
The state wanted some evidence from the upcoming trial of Adam Littleton to be used in defense of the law. Littleton is charged with the second degree murder of Jasilas Wright, a 19-year-old who worked as a dancer in a club in the French Quarter. He was described in police reports as her pimp and boyfriend.
State officials argue that although the Supreme Court has ruled erotic dancing and stripping are protected rights, there are areas where the state can curtail them, including where there is a public safety issue, in this case the potential for younger women to be involved in sex trafficking and prostitution.
Lawyers for the three strippers declined comment on grounds the legal action is still continuing.
“They are using the free speech argument, “ said Peter Russell, a Gretna criminal attorney and former police officer. “And, indeed, individuals are allowed to put their body on display. It is a form of speech.”
Russell told the Louisiana Record, "The Supreme Court test is that it must be balanced, that there is a public safety issue while understanding a lot of girls are clearly expressing their opinion.”
The state, in attempting to introduce evidence from the Jasilas Wright case, wanted to show evidence of a sex trade and that it was then reasonable to restrict freedom of speech, Russell said.
The law stems from attempts to close down a number of establishments accused of facilitating prostitution. “They were shut down, but then allowed to reopen” Russell said. “The state wanted to figure out a way to champion victims of the sex trade, particularly those underage,” adding that the ban on under 21 dancers makes it easier to regulate, to make sure they are not underage.
Under the law, those under 21 can fully strip in an establishment where alcohol is not served. In places with a liquor license, they are allowed to dance but not fully nude.
The Louisiana Office of Alcohol Tobacco Control this week filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to throw out the constitutional claims brought by the three dancers.
Last week another judge ruled against the state in its attempt to introduce the evidence from the Littleton prosecution. The state wanted the evidence introduced “in camera.” meaning only a judge can review the material.
According to a report in the New Orleans Times Picayune, Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby wrote "the unorthodox nature of the [state's] request troubling.”
The use documents connected to Littleton's case could undermine the criminal prosecution, Wells Roby wrote.
She also wrote that the "in camera" request means that neither the defense nor the prosecution would be able to view the documents.
"As such, the plaintiffs would be unable to challenge the assertions or conclusions contained in the report; question the sources of information and/or witnesses involved in the report; or object to the admissibility," Roby said.