Last week, the Supreme Court ruled a North Carolina law banning registered sex offenders from using Facebook was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The man at the center of the case was convicted in 2002 at the age of 21 of a sex-offense involving a 13 year-old girl. Under North Carolina law, he was automatically registered as a sex offender. In 2010, he posted on Facebook to celebrate winning a traffic court dispute. The post read “How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? No fine, no court costs, nothing spent…Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!” A police officer saw the statement and arrested him for violating the law in question which makes it a felony for any registered sex offender to access “commercial social-networking sites.” The law has been used to prosecute over 1,000 individuals.
First Amendment Principles And Convicted Sex Offenders
The Court, minus Justice Gorsuch who did not join Court in time to participate, unanimously ruled against the statute. While the eight Justices varied slightly in their reasoning, the Court found that one of the fundamental First Amendment principles that everyone has access to places where they can both speak and listen. The Court recognized that in today’s world the internet and most importantly, social media sites, are important avenues of communication that provide people with “relatively unlimited, low cost capacity for communications of all kinds. The North Carolina law was so broadly written that it prohibited the use of almost any internet site by registered sex offenders.
While three of the eight justices voiced concerns about equating the internet with public streets and parks, they did agree that denying an entire group of people access to the internet was contrary to the principles of the First Amendment. However, the Court did suggest that a more narrowly-tailored law designed to prevent sex-offenders from interacting with minors online may pass constitutional muster. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy recognized that the internet is a new frontier that is bringing with it new and unique challenges stating, “While we now may be coming to the realization that the cyber age is a revolution of epic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we thing, express ourselves and define who we want to be.”
If you need a lawyer for a criminal State or Federal sex crime charges, call Attorney Joe Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in criminal legal matters.