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SCOTUS: State's social media ban for sex offenders is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of the United States officially wrapped up its 2016-17 session earlier today by releasing six decisions, including its ruling on the Trump administration's so-called travel ban.

While most of the media coverage will now focus on this decision and the others reached in this last batch of cases, it's nevertheless imperative to examine a decision handed down by SCOTUS last Monday, one which Justice Anthony Kennedy called the first "to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet."

The case, Packingham v. North Carolina, revolved around a state statute, the only one of its kind, 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."

Packingham, who pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child back in 2002 and was ordered to register as a sex offender, made a Facebook post back in April 2010. The post, made using an alias but also including his picture and linked to an account held by his father, bragged about beating a traffic citation.

Packingham was later arrested, and charged with violating the above-referenced North Carolina statute. At trial, he sought to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that the law against using social media violated the First Amendment. This motion was denied, and he was given a suspended prison sentence.

He appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, which reversed the conviction and struck down the statute on the grounds that it was not narrowly tailored to achieve the State's otherwise legitimate interest in protecting minors.

The state appealed to North Carolina Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the lower appellate court, reinstating both the conviction and the statute. Here, the state's high court found that the law was indeed narrowly tailored and that sex offenders had access to other websites that performed the same function as social media platforms.

Packingham filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was granted, and oral arguments were held in February.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post …

If you've been charged with any type of sex crime at the state or federal level, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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