Controversial laws that prohibit sex offenders from using social media have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as being in violation of the Constitution.
On June 19, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that a North Carolina law making it an offense for convicted sex offenders to use social media violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling is likely to impact a law in Texas.
The challenge to the state law was brought by Lester Gerard Packingham Jr., a registered sex offender in North Carolina, reported the News & Observer.
Packingham was hit with additional charges after Durham police found a Facebook page he created under an assumed name.
Packingham ended up on the sex offenders register after he was convicted in 2003 of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Seven years later, he used his Facebook account to post information about a traffic ticket that was dismissed.
The sex offender’s use of social media violated a law in North Carolina that banned anyone convicted of a sex offense from using any social media site that could be accessed by minors.
The Supreme Court justices ruled the ban to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court said it is a “fundamental First Amendment principle” that all people have access to places where they can speak and listen.
The justices said cyberspace and social media in particular is one of the most important places to exchange views.
“Foreclosing access to social media altogether thus prevents users from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights,” the justices concluded. Pew Research Center data found more than three-quarters of American adults use a social networking site.
The Packingham case puts a similar law in Texas in jeopardy. In Texas, some sex offenders are banned from using social media websites.
Texas state law bans some offenders who are under supervision and out on parole from visiting websites that allow them to create a profile, or communicate with others. Social media sites fit the criteria.
Although the sex offender laws are intended to prevent people with sex crimes on their record from grooming new victims, in practice they stop sex offenders from accessing a wide range of informational resources and infringe on constitutional rights.
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