Sex offenders have First Amendment right to Internet, social media 4

By DAVID BOOTH . . . On June 19, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the value of social media as a pervasive news source and a socially ingrained forum for exchanging communications when it struck down an overreaching North Carolina statute. The North Carolina law under consideration made it a felony for any person on the sex offender registry to access any social media platforms minors use. Justices unanimously agreed that “to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.” Echoing Justice Kennedy in the court’s opinion, it is “a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.”

“All persons” include people on the registry for sex crimes according to the ruling handed down Monday. Packingham v. North Carolina analyzed the extent to which North Carolina’s draconian measure to prevent anyone on the sex offender registry from using social media was necessary and legitimate. Justice Alito mentioned in his concurring opinion that the statute was so broad that accessing Amazon and Walmart could be construed as a violation. Not only was the law extremely broad, but the facts of the case were ripe for a challenge.

In 2002, at age 21, Lester Packingham engaged in sexual wrongdoing with a minor. He was convicted and served out his sentence. Flash forward eight years to 2010, when Lester logged on to Facebook to jubilantly praise God for a dismissed parking ticket. A North Carolina detective discovered the post and arrested him for violating the state ban on accessing Facebook.

Three facts are important to remember. One, Lester was no longer under community supervision, but he was still listed on the state’s registry for sex crimes. Two, Lester was not arrested for committing another act of sexual wrongdoing, nor was he ever convicted for using the internet to engage in sexual wrongdoing. Three, over 1,000 people have been prosecuted under this law since 2008. These facts implicate the North Carolina statute as more of a tool to restrict First Amendment rights and incarcerate people, with less utility given to preventing sexual abuse.

Please read David’s full commentary on the Sex Law and Policy Center website.

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4 thoughts on “Sex offenders have First Amendment right to Internet, social media

  • Malik A

    What if someone is convicted for using the internet to engage in sexual wrongdoing and is no longer under community supervision but is still listed on state’s registry for sex crime, can he use social media i.e. Facebook?

    • rwvnral Post author

      The holding of the Packingham case is clear. If you no longer have any court-imposed obligations (you’re off probation), you have the right to use social media. Just be sure that you report any online identifiers you may create in order to use social media. Being on the registry is not a sentencing obligation. That was the precise question before the court in the Packingham case.

  • Andrew Pena

    Very interesting findings. Is there a group in the State of Georgia? Along with your article have you any findings with the regard with felons (esp. S.O.) has a subject of Housing for any felons? I am a minority, senior and have a disability. All housing has been denied towards me. Tried real estate home rentals in which all backround checks were denied. Property management companies, real estate companies with private property owners…DENIED!!! If on the registry; but no Probation…still Denied. I was told by a leasing agent to get my case expunged. The laws regarding felons and sex offender felons desperately need an overhaul. Many Amendments are violated so how do I get the STATE to pay for and locate for felons a neighborhood with housing for all felons and s.o.felons in order to feel safe from continuing prosecution after we paid our debt to society. I never realized how ugly society has gotten when your are marked. I would not mind moving to Europ but even that is still impossible unless expungement is granted to S.O. Felons.