By ROBIN VANDERWALL . . . While we’re happy to see that the editors at The Wilson Times understand the danger of legislative overreach when it comes to First Amendment rights, it’s clearly too late for the N.C. Legislature to correct a law that, if overturned, will set national precedence once the U.S. Supreme is finished with its judicious scalpel. Bottom line is easy enough to find: First Amendment rights are fundamental to, and birthrights of, every American citizen. There is no justification whatsoever for denying any American the equal protection of laws insofar as they protect a fundamental right. Sex offenders who are not on probation or parole are no longer subjected to a “qualified” or rationally articulated version of First Amendment protections no matter what manner of crime they may have committed. End of story. Denying a citizen “access” to social media is to deny him “access” to the public forum for expressing opinions about law, politics, culture, religion, history, or any possible subject under heaven. Imagine a law that prevented access to a telephone on the basis that someone might use it to contact a minor. Absurd and ridiculous!
Our Opinion: Sex offenders’ social media ban needs a rewrite
Not all sex offenders are created equal.
A well-intentioned but overreaching state law barring registered sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media — whether or not their crimes involved either children or the internet — is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Durham resident Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his 2012 conviction of maintaining a social media profile as a sex offender, arguing that the state law is unconstitutional. The N.C. Court of Appeals agreed with Packingham in August 2013, but the state Supreme Court upheld the statute last year in a 4-2 ruling.
The federal high court agreed last month to let Packingham plead his case that the law violates the First Amendment by squelching ex-convicts’ online speech.
Under N.C. General Statute 14-202.5, sex offenders are prohibited from accessing commercial social networking websites that extend membership to minors. That sounds reasonable and necessary for pedophiles, but it’s a head-scratcher for offenders who have groped or sexually assaulted other adults.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Court of Appeals Judge Rick Elmore wrote in 2013 that the vague law “fails to target the ‘evil’ it is intended to rectify” — namely, child sexual predators trolling the internet for their next victim.
The state Supreme Court reversed the appellate panel, finding that the law regulated conduct rather than speech and that its definition of verboten websites left offenders with “ample alternative channels for communication.” Justices even provided examples, including recipe-sharing sites, job boards and a television news station’s website.
There’s likely to be a lot of legal hairsplitting over the state court’s “ample alternative channels” language, which is also the focal point of a friend-of-the-court brief filed by First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh.
Rather than getting into the weeds of that technical argument, we’ll appeal instead to common sense. What good does it do to arbitrarily ban all sex offenders from Facebook when most of those convicts have no interest in scoping out young users?
Registered sex offenders are about as reviled as any category of criminal. But the same label applied to rapists and child molesters is also used to tag teenagers who share racy photos or are punished for sexual relationships with slightly younger classmates.
Not only is North Carolina able to distinguish the former from the latter, it already does. The state applies the term “sexually violent predator” to those convicted of certain crimes and “recidivist” to those who reoffend. Those designations are included on the publicly searchable sex offender registry.
Instead of wasting taxpayer money to defend a carelessly crafted law in the nation’s highest court, why not revise the statute to exclude only child sexual predators from social networking sites?
Lawmakers have two choices: Stand behind sloppy work and risk a ruling that could open the floodgates to all sex offenders or fix their mistake and protect children by shutting out those who pose a genuine danger. (Source)