US Supreme Court Weighs Bar on Sex Offenders' Use of Social Media

Besides restricting offenders' ability to access social media, the North Carolina law can also keep them off websites like Youtube and nytimes.com, since those sites doesn't require users to verify that they're adults, according to a petition filed to the Supreme Court.

Goldberg, the lawyer representing a sex offender who was convicted of a fresh criminal violation after accessing Facebook, said the state law "reaches vast swaths of core First Amendment activity that is totally unrelated to the government's preventative goal". As the AP explains, Nebraska and IN have had their similar laws already ruled unconstitutional.

Justice Samuel Alito, who has backed restrictions on speech more often than his colleagues, appeared to be more open to North Carolina's argument. "So this has become a crucially important channel of political communication".

If this law is struck down, it would affect 20,000 sex offenders now registered in North Carolina. Goldberg complained that the law bans "vast swaths of core First Amendment activity" that have nothing to do with the government's professed goal of preventing sex offenders from using social media sites to gather information that they can then use to target minors for sexual abuse. "Other states restrict Internet use as a condition of parole or ban from social networking sites only those who commit certain crimes", reports UPI. Thirteen states have joined a brief supporting the attorney general's brief. The law does not require any proof that the user meant to use the site for an illegal goal. The California Legislature revised the law a year ago to correct the First Amendment violations.

North Carolina, meanwhile, counters its law is necessary because social media is a prime forum for child molesters to seek out and groom victims.

Furthermore, says Stanford law professor David Goldberg, who's representing Packingham at the Supreme Court, "Everyday Americans understand that social media - which includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram - are absolutely central to their daily life and how the First Amendment is exercised in America today". He pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child and was put on the state's sex-offender registry.

He got a suspended sentence of 10-12 months and his name was placed on a registry of sex offenders.

The case concerns Lester Packingham, now 36, who was convicted of a felony in 2010 for having a Facebook account.

"Man God is good!" Packingham posted. "No fine, no court costs, no nothing spent.praise be to GOD, WOW!"

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed that ruling, reinstating Packingham's conviction and upholding the law.

Even though they may have served their time and finished probation, and haven't broken the law again, they remain under restrictions unlike other criminals, because of the particular nature of their crimes and the fear that they will be driven to offend again.

Kagan also questioned why North Carolina's law exempted sites that provide only one of such discrete services as photo-sharing, email, and chat rooms. Several justices tried, without apparent success, to see whether the law could be narrowed so as to avoid First Amendment problems.

During the February 27 oral arguments, the justices' probed the positions of Packingham's lawyers, but were hardest on the lawyer for the state.

In keeping with his standard practice, Justice Clarence Thomas did not speak or ask questions during the argument.

A decision in the case is expected by June.

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