The Fight for Sex Offenders' Freedom of Speech in North Carolina
The Supreme Court recently heard Packingham v. North Carolina. North Carolina bans registered sex offenders from accessing any social media sites that allow under-18-year-olds to post; these include Facebook, Twitter and more. The law isn't limited to people who are in prison or on probation, it also applies even to people who have finished serving their sentences. The law is also not limited to sex offenders who committed crimes against minors, but makes it a crime for any registered sex offender to either post to such a site or even read it.
The defendant in Packingham v. North Carolina, Lester Packingham, was convicted under this law for posting on Facebook that “God is good” after he obtained the dismissal of a traffic ticket. Lester had been convicted on two counts of statutory rape (in California see CHAPTER 1. Rape, Abduction, Carnal Abuse of Children, and Seduction .) in 2002, and was ordered to register as a sex offender (see CHAPTER 5.5. Sex Offenders). Because of this criminal history, he was convicted based on this Facebook 'post'.
Many human rights organizations including the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, EPIC, and the Cato Institute argue that North Carolina's law violates the First Amendment. The law is unconstitutionally overbroad because, under the definition of social media, it would prevent individuals on the registry from reading or commenting on a huge swathe of websites, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, the New York Times, and Wikipedia. The law, which in theory is supposed to protect minors from sex offenders, is unfair as it restricts the speech of individuals who were never convicted of a crime involving minors. It clearly restricts far more speech than necessary. It is thus “overbroad” and should be struck down as unconstitutional.
The Law Offices of Seth P. Chazin make every effort to protect our clients' rights. The case of defendant Lester Packingham clearly reveals a serious violation of Mr. Packingham's constitutional rights, including his right to freedom of speech. Even though a person has been convicted of a crime, they should still enjoy the protection of our nation's constitution.
Information from the Supreme Court:
- Supreme Court of the United States Blog: Packingham v. North Carolina
- Supreme Court Case: Lester Gerard Packingham, Petitioner v. North Carolina
- Washington Post: Supreme Court Agrees to Consider NC ban on Sex Offenders Access to Most Prominent Social Networks
- The Marshall Project: The Man Arrested For Praising Jesus
- The ACLU: Whether North Carolina can prohibit individuals who are registered sex offenders from “accessing” any social media websites