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article imageU.S. Supreme Court will hear sex offender social media ban case

By Arthur Weinreb     Oct 29, 2016 in Internet
The United States Supreme Court decided to hear the case of a North Carolina man who was convicted under a state law. That law forbids registered sex offenders from accessing social media sites that permits minor children to have accounts or access.
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court, without giving reasons, decided to hear the appeal of Lester Packingham. Packingham had been convicted under a North Carolina law that prohibits registered sex offenders from using “commercial social media Web sites,” that allow minor children to join or maintain pages on that site. Packingham will argue the sex offender ban violates his rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
In 2002, Packingham was indicted on of two counts of statutory rape for having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. He later pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child and was placed on the state’s sex offender registry.
In 2008, North Carolina passed N.C.G.S. 14-202.5 that makes it a Class I felony for a registered sex offender to access any social media site that minor children are allowed to access.
Two years later, a North Carolina police officer checked social media sites looking for sex offenders who were accessing these sites. The officer discovered Packingham had a Facebook account under another name. There was no evidence the sex offender used this account for an improper or illegal purpose but the statute does not require that for a sex offender to be found guilty of violating the law.. Authorities found a post wherein Packingham thanked God and Jesus for the fact he had beaten a traffic ticket.
For that post, Packingham was charged for accessing social media and in May 2012 he was found guilty by a jury. He was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation.
Packingham appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In 2013, that court vacated the conviction, finding the North Carolina law was unconstitutional. The appellate court ruled the law was vague, arbitrary, and prohibited all kinds of communications of registered sex offenders that were totally unrelated to the goal of protecting minors. The state appealed.
In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court, in a 4-2 decision, allowed the appeal and restored the conviction. The majority held the law was narrowly constructed to pursue a legitimate government objective. Packingham, and about 1,000 others who have been convicted under N.C.G.S. 14-202-5, were said have a lot of alternate means of communicating without the necessity of using prohibited social media sites.
In March 2016, Packingham filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. In the petition, the sex offender argues he risks punishment for communicating something that does not have to be proven to be harmful. He is also claiming the law not only prohibits him from using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but also other sites such as news sites where other people, including minors, are allowed to post comments.
The case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court in early 2017 and the decision will be rendered before the end of the court’s term in June.
More about united states supreme court, registered sex offenders, Social media, sex offenders banned from social media, law banning social media
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