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article imageSupreme Court rules sex offenders have right to use social media

By Arthur Weinreb     Jun 20, 2017 in Internet
Washington - The Supreme Court of the United States struck down a North Carolina law that prohibited registered sex offenders from using any social media site children can access, regardless of intent. The court found the law violated the First Amendment.
The decision of the court was handed down yesterday. All eight justices (Justice Gorsuch did not hear the argument and did not participate) agreed the North Carolina law prevented sex offenders from exercising their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In 2002, Lester Packingham pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a 13-year-old girl. As a result of his conviction, he was placed on North Carolina’s sex offender registry. In 2008 the state passed a law prohibiting registered sex offenders from any using social media sites children have access to.
In 2010 Packingham went to court and beat a traffic ticket. He was so happy about his victory he thanked God and Jesus in a Facebook post. His post was seen by a police officer and Packingham was charged with a felony for using the social media site. He was convicted at trial, given a suspended sentence and placed on probation.
Packingham appealed his conviction right up to the Supreme Court. His initial appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeal was allowed and his conviction was set aside. But the state appealed the matter further to North Carolina’s Supreme Court. In a 4 to 2 decision, that court reversed the appellate court and found Packingham guilty. Packingham appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote the state cannot suppress lawful speech in order to combat unlawful speech. The justice opined that is exactly what North Carolina’s law did and must be held invalid. He noted the North Carolina law required no proof of an intent to engage in unlawful speech or acts.
Kennedy wrote
cyberspace is one of the most important places where views and ideas are exchanged. A blanket restriction on the use of social media prevents sex offenders from exercising their basic rights to free speech under the First Amendment. Kennedy also wrote social media is beneficial even to convicted criminals and perhaps more so for those criminals who want to reform. People use social media to find jobs and learn about current events.
Alex Abdo, a staff attorney at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, described the decision as a “coming out party” for social media. He said the case put social media on an equal footing with other recognized forms of free expression.
Justices Roberts, Thomas and Alito agreed the North Carolina law violated the First Amendment but said Kennedy’s decision went too far in limiting what states can do to protect people from dangerous sexual predators.
This was the second First Amendment case handed down by the Supreme Court yesterday. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to allow an Asian American band to copyright their name, The Slants, on the grounds the name was “disparaging.” The court held barring the use of offensive trademarks was unconstitutional.
SEE ALSO: Supreme Court to decide if social media ban is unconstitutional
More about Supreme Court of the United States, Social media, First amendment, registered sex offenders, north carolina law
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