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SCOTUS: State’s social media ban for sex offenders is unconstitutional – II

Jun 28, 2017 | Federal Crimes

In our previous post, we began discussing the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Packingham v. North Carolina, a case which Justice Anthony Kennedy called the first “to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet.”

To recap, the case revolved around a North Carolina law passed back in 2008 making it a felony for convicted sex offenders to access “a commercial social networking Web site” when they know that the site in question allows children to “become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” The law was viewed by state lawmakers as adding so-called “virtual playgrounds” to the real world locations on which sex offenders are already prohibited from setting foot, such as schools and playgrounds.

The issue before SCOTUS in the case, as framed by Justice Anthony Kennedy, was whether that North Carolina statue “is permissible under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, applicable to the States under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

During oral arguments, attorneys for Packingham argued that the affect of the North Carolina statute was to prevent registered sex offenders in that state from accessing those websites that have become a essential component of everyday life and are otherwise irreplaceable. Indeed, they highlighted how Twitter hosts roughly 500 million tweets per day while Snapchat hosts as many as 10 billion videos.

For its part, attorneys representing North Carolina argued that the law was essential to protect children, as information on victims is gained by offenders via social networking websites in over 80 percent of cases.

The arguments of the state proved unavailing, however, as the court ruled unanimously that the North Carolina statute did indeed violate the First Amendment, reversing the decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“To foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights,” wrote Kennedy. “Even convicted criminals — and in some instances especially convicted criminals — might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives.”

It’s worth noting that Justice Samuel Alito penned a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he argued that the majority went too far in its reasoning. This reality, he cautioned, might result in the states believing that they are “largely powerless to restrict even the most dangerous sexual predators from visiting any Internet sites.”

What are your thoughts on the decision in Packingham?

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you’ve been charged with any type of sex crime at the state or federal level, the stakes are simply too high.


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