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Totally Banning Sex Offenders from Accessing Social Media Violates First Amendment

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The Supreme Court of the United States has just made a landmark ruling in a case that we covered in an earlier blog post, protecting the First Amendment rights of people who have been charged with a sex crime.

Supreme Court Hears Case Barring Sex Offenders from Social Media

The case, Packingham v. North Carolina, dealt with a 21-year-old man from North Carolina, Lester Packingham, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to having sex with a 13-year-old. Under North Carolina’s law, he had to register as a sex offender. Then, in 2008, North Carolina enacted a law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to use a handful of websites, including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In 2010, Packingham was caught using Facebook and charged with a felony. He was convicted, and his appeals got all the way to the Supreme Court.

Total Bans on Access to Social Media Violate the First Amendment

The Supreme Court was unanimous is deciding that Packingham’s First Amendment rights had been violated by North Carolina’s criminal statute. While some of the Justices disagreed on why this was the case, they all agreed on one thing: A total ban went too far.

One of the key issues with North Carolina’s law was that the kind of websites that it barred registered sex offenders from using was very broad, going well beyond just traditional social media sites like Twitter. Even though the whole point of the law was to prevent sex offenders from getting access to children, it could, at least in theory, prevent them from getting on sites like Amazon or the Washington Post, too.

In the eyes of the Supreme Court, this went too far, and infringed on Packingham’s rights under the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t just protect your freedom to express yourself – it also protects your freedom to listen to others. According to the Court, North Carolina’s broad ban on social media and other websites went well past the stated aim of protecting minors from sexual predators and instead punished convicted criminals – people who had already served their time – by stripping them of their rights under the Constitution.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

This case might have come from North Carolina, and Maine might not be one of the states that has a similar law that bans or even limits sex offenders from using social media, but the lessons learned from this case are still important to remember: Collateral consequences of a crime are often just as serious as the legal ones. Even after Packingham had finished his sentence for violating the law, he had to change how he acted simply because he’d violated the law before.

When it comes to collateral consequences, sexual crimes are some of the worst. For example, if you’ve been convicted for a sex crime in Maine and had to register as a sex offender, the state can even restrict where you can live.

This makes it crucial to have an effective criminal defense attorney at your side throughout the process. Reach out to William T. Bly by calling his law office at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online.


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