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SCOTUS: Court to consider social media access for sex offenders [updated with media links]

In April 2010, Lester Packingham’s traffic ticket was dismissed, prompting him to take to Facebook to celebrate. He posted that “God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? No fine, no court costs, no nothing spent . . . Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!”

… Based on his Facebook post, Packingham was charged with violating a North Carolina law that makes it a crime for a registered sex offender to “access” a “commercial social networking Web site” when he “knows” that it allows minors. Packingham asked the trial court to dismiss the charges, arguing that the law infringes on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, but the trial court declined to do so. Packingham was convicted and received a suspended sentence. An intermediate state appellate court overturned his conviction, but the state supreme court reversed that ruling and reinstated his conviction. Last fall the justices agreed to weigh in, and next week they will hear oral argument in his case. Full Article

Oral Argument February 27 – Case Files

Related Media Articles

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article134741084.html

http://www.npr.org/2017/02/26/517086190/north-carolina-law-makes-facebook-a-felony-for-former-sex-offenders

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article134741084.html

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SEX_OFFENDERS_FACEBOOK_BAN?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2017-02-25-19-47-23

added 2/27

https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-02-27/social-media-ban-for-sex-offenders-questioned-at-u-s-high-court

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-supreme-court-sex-offender-facebook-ban-20170227-story.html

https://news.vice.com/story/a-sex-offender-was-arrested-after-thanking-jesus-on-facebook-now-his-case-is-before-the-supreme-court

 

 

 

 

Join the discussion

  1. Chris F

    Another great article covering the Packingham case.

    However, it also fails to mention the following:

    1) The law only affects law abiding sex offenders. If a sex offender is going to unlawfully seduce a child on social media or just gather information on one, they will simply do so using a fake gmail account to set up a fake social media account. There is no way for police to track that. I would imagine that none of the 1000+ that have been charged with breaking this law actually had a nefarious intent since the State did not provide that information. I am not sure why this is not pointed out in the briefs to SCOTUS as it nullifies the state’s intent and shows how the law is just another punishment against sex offenders.

    2) The State tries to claim the 1000+ figure of how many sex offenders have been charged is invalid because it comes from an unsubstantiated media source. However, the state didn’t bother to provide the real number charged, which it obviously has access to.

    • Eric Knight

      I hope the litigants have learned if they made any mistakes in the state Supreme Court ruling, or if the court itself refused to consider any valid litigation (such as recidivism rates or actual percentages of committing a crime through social media). First Amendment protections is one of the few arguments in which conservatives side with liberals on the Court.

    • Lovecraft

      Here is another great article from the super lenient state of Florida!

      http://www.winknews.com/2016/05/10/lawmakers-banning-sex-offenders-from-social-media-is-easier-said-than-done/

      One of my favorite parts from a lawmaker in Florida:
      “I think (Florida’s registration requirements) struck the balance we were trying to achieve so that we could monitor the activity to make sure nothing inappropriate was happening, but at the same time, allow them to re-start, start re-integrating into society and be able to use social media and the internet like everyone else does,” said Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers). “Otherwise, they would be put in a very difficult position to reintegrate into society.”

      So you have a lawmaker from arguably the toughest state in the country on registrants stating on record that without social media registrants would be in a very difficult position to reintegrate…wow! I think this statement speaks volumes about how far they think they can legally go and this is why there are only 2 states with a blanket ban. It will not hold up under any level of scrutiny. The lawyer for the oral argument has this article too just in case you are wondering.

  2. Michael

    In a dissenting opinion in the 2003 Meghan’s law challenge to Alaska’s and Connecticut’s notification laws, Justice Kennedy said applying the law to “that” group did not violate the Constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto legislation because the law was punitive neither in intent nor in effect and that the Alaska law created a ”civil, nonpunitive regime” with the goal of protecting the public.” Unless he has changed his mind on that in the last 14 years, and unless the court recognizes that the recidivism stats used to justify retroactivity are false, I don’t see the court bending on any sex offender legislation challenge.

    ….

    • Tired Of Hiding

      You are correct and they MUST be forced to accept the actual FACTS about the recidivism stats. It really should be the ONLY thing that ALL the states sex offender reform organizations should concentrate on – PERIOD.

      One message…just the FACTS…beat it into the brains of everyone until it is accepted as the truth.

      Until that happens NOTHING is going to really change because the perception of sex offenders defines reality.

      Basing legal ruling on false data is creating false laws. False laws are not just.

      At one time slavery was “legal” as based on the false premise that blacks were inferior to whites and therefore did not deserve the same rights. That was a law based on a lie and/or false information. It was not a just law any more than the way citizens who have been labelled as sex offenders are treated based on false data.

      Seems pretty easy right. Just the facts ma’am nothing but the facts. Let’s see if we can get organized and get just this one thing finally done. It will make all the difference!

  3. DPH

    ! & 2 Chris F., good points!
    Thanking Ms. Howe for the article even getting the facts out there. Great Start!
    Hope more circulation happens, in print and online. Hope she will follow up post SCOTUS decisions.

    People DO change and what happened to them fact finding about Continual Punishment ongoing for law
    abiding RC’s that follow the laws. Maybe someday the Feds will have a Tiered system or other relief.

    Not bringing back the Social Media take away that RC’s barely sub gained (some States) back. Here we go.

  4. Eric Knight

    Does anyone have a definitive answer on whether Neil Gorsuch, presumedly projected to be confirmed as the ninth justice, will be eligible to opine in this case based upon the transcripts of the arguments? As I understand it, a justice doesn’t have to be present at a hearing in order to deliberate on a case, but I am not sure if a justice must be seated PRIOR to a case being heard.

    Another questions: Will this case affect Doe vs. Harris, the 9th Circuit victory we had a couple of years ago?

    Keep in mind a 4-4 tie means that the issue will not be resolved for everyone.

    • Lovecraft

      From what I understand he will not be involved in this case. The attorney representing Packingham stated on air that he believes this decision will be decisively in favor of Packingham. (He does not believe it will even be close to a 4-4 tie) I have seen many bad statutes in regards to registrants, but few are as grotesque and malformed as the blanket social media ban NC and Louisiana have.

  5. G4Change

    I hope that ACSOL, ACLU and any other qualified organizations and/or individuals (Jill Levenson, etc) are able to file “friend of the court” (or anything similar that’s appropriate) opinions in this matter. It’s time to inundate these justices with true facts – unlike what happened with regards to some quack who wrote an article upon which the whole stupid 2003 Smith v Doe case seemed to pivot.
    I can’t help but think that this case will either really really help us or really really hurt us. God help us all with this one!!!

  6. Joe123

    You CANNOT criminalize innocent behavior. It did not work with pushing offenders off of public parks and it cannot work for social media. How about making a law that requires parents to teach their kids how to stay vigilant online and not send images or make plans to meet someone? There’s a genius idea for the USA, actually parenting kids well instead of just waiting for the laws and nanny government to do the parenting for them. Ridiculous…

  7. Anonymous

    “It is now illegal for a Registered Sex Offender to “live” on “earth” when he “knows” that it contains minors.”
    -Logic of the North Carolina state legislature

    I hope SCOTUS crushes this despicable, complete abandonment of humanity.

  8. Lake County

    So as a good example justifying the need for access to social media;
    5 days ago here in Northern California, we had rains that flooded California’s largest and oldest lake. When the flood waters came in it was after 5pm and it flooded my towns major road starting right next to my house. It was so bad that I could not walk out my front or back door without walking in water. And it caused the sewers to back up putting sewage onto my property. I needed emergency help to close the road so that the jerks in trucks driving fast through the flood waters wouldn’t cause me more damage and contamination. I contacted 911 and they referred me to CHP who then referred me to Department of Public Works. Department of Public Works was closed and said on their answering machine to call 911 for emergencies. So dead end there. I also tried calling CalTrans who was located blocks from my house but still I only got a recording. So my garage is flooding and the water is 2 inches up my foundation on the house, what I’m I supposed to do? I went onto Facebook and asked around and someone told me that Department of Public Works has a Facebook page that they respond too. I went to their Facebook page and posted the problem. Within 15 min someone from Department of Public Works responded and said they would get someone over to close the road as soon as possible, which they did. That helped reduce the traffic driving through the flooded road which reduced the amount of contamination on my property and many neighbors. So what other options did I have other than Facebook? Every time my County has an emergency (which is often lately, floods or fires) they use social media to post emergency notifications. So in my County, social media is not an option and there is no alternative. And yes I’m willing to share this experience to anyone filing a lawsuit for this social media issue. I am not personally banned from using social media, I am just breaking Facebook’s TOS.

    As quoted in this article: “social networking sites are among the most popular avenues for Americans to “express themselves, associate, and learn important information.” In some scenarios, he points out, there aren’t actually any viable alternatives to social networking sites – for example, a 2011 “town hall” hosted by President Barack Obama was conducted solely over Twitter.”

    • 4sensiblepolicies

      Excellent point. I would go as far as to say that social media is used as much or more of a basic communications device as the telephone was in prior eras. Imagine if this was 1920 if they’d had sex offender hysteria back then. I wonder how the courts would have spun the concept that a telephone might be used to gain access to minors. After all, the offender could use letters or a telegraph to communicate. The telephone could, after all, be used to gain random unfettered access to children right in their own homes. Of course, banning offenders from telephones would seem preposterous today. And so should the innocent use of social media. But I wonder if the judges care about being honest, or if their generation can even grasp how basic of a communications tool social media has become.

      • Timmr

        They see us as the Big Bad Wolf using the Big Bad Internet to catch Little Red Riding Hood. There is a lot of the fear of technology itself as much as of us.

      • Lake County

        The fact that seniors (judges) are making decisions about the use of social media is very scary. Some seniors at great age can grasp the benefits of the internet and use it daily. However many seniors don’t even have a computer or the internet and have no idea of it’s value. Fortunately most judges (attorneys) at a minimum now know that the internet is required for case law research.

    • Timmr

      The Cal Fire twitter feeds I have found are the best way to get timely information on wildfires. You can access them even without a twitter account. The emergency web sites are too slow. You see smoke on the horizon, and by the time you’ve wasted on government or the corporate media sites trying to get news of the fire, the flames could be at your door. So I would say, denying someone the only means to protect themselves and property is a form of punishment.

  9. Timmr

    The real danger of social media is its speed in getting misinformation out there to a lot of people all at once. Good if you want an army of protesters gathered quickly in Tahrir Square, but bad if you are the owner of Comet Pizza. It’s a lot like radio when it first came out. It was so amazing as to be frightening, and people thought everything that came out of it was true. We are the modern invaders starring in the live streamed remake of ‘War of the Worlds.’

    • New Person

      great parallel with radio and War of the Worlds

      this is akin to fake news now, except it’s well designed with a biased political purpose.

  10. Bruce Ferrell

    Unfortunately all this case will determine is the ability of the state to criminalize access of social media by registered citizens.

    In no way will this alter social media’s ability ti discriminate via terms of service.

    Until that is addressed, access to the new public commons can and will still be denied.

    • Just a few thoughts...

      The common thread is the ability to contact minors, those 17 and under, who are permitted to have FB accounts. If it were to contact other consenting adults only or an adult only website, 18 yrs at a minimum, then this would be a non-issue.

      However, because every private entity online does not validate the individual and their age who is accessing their online presence, anyone, as we have all seen, can portray themselves to be someone else and skirt the rules. The actual online entity is irrelevant, e.g. New York Times, Food Network, FB, My Space, etc, because in a digital world, anyone can access anything. Terms of Service conditions are cover your butt items required because of the stupidity of a few (e.g. frivolous lawsuits) and really don’t work overall. Society encourages full interaction among its people regardless of age, so whether you are 14 acting 18 or older or 30 acting 15, no one will really know who is on the other end. Until online entities actually can prove who the people are signing up and their intentions, really trying to stop certain people from being on your online presence is a futile effort.

      Trying to stop free expression as guaranteed in our Constitution using caveats is stupid political motion. Overturn Packingham!

      • Oops, got it reversed, my bad

        Oops, got it reversed – Uphold Packingham, overturn NC law.

        • Oops, got it reversed, my bad (2nd time)

          Reversing my reversal, it should read overturn (or reverse) Packingham and overturn the NC law

  11. Timmr

    Also, I don’t see a win would prohibit the requirement to disclose internet identifiers. Banning you from speech or requiring that you incriminate yourself, both violate free speech. Indeed the whole registry is a violation of free speech. You may live your life as clean as anyone else. What other more pure form of self expression is there than one’s action? Yet it is all for naught before the authorities, and one must still be compelled to call oneself a criminal by signing one’s name to a list of officially dangerous people, negating the image you have otherwise cultivated.

    • New Person

      Which brings us back to California Constitution, Article 1, Section 1:

      SECTION 1. All people are by nature free and independent and have
      inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and
      liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing
      and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

      “All people… have inalienable rights. Among theses are… pursuing and obtaining… privacy.”

      Since California has a “lifetime registration” then it is inherent to apply that California has a “lifetime ban on your inalienable right to pursue and obtain privacy”.

      1203.4 is supposed to restore me back to my original state before my offense. The state has created a new law outside of 1203.4 to negate that. Two points from this:
      1. The state has taken a means of pursuing and obtaining privacy as 1203.4 states specifically it will remove all penalties and disabilities stemming from the offense.
      2. The state has uncivilly segregated registrants from all other rehabilitated people. If you have a felony, then you are not allowed to possess a gun. That’s covers every one who has a felony. If you don’t have a felony, then you get your gun rights back. But the continuance to register isn’t applied to every person convicted. It’s only applied to a convicted or rehabilitated registrant. Could this be also used for a Bill of Attainder lawsuit?

      What makes registrants more dangerous than any other convict if we’re all to be treated equally? I do not see every convict sharing the same penalty or disability. Remember, registration is only applied when you are convicted, thus it is either penalty or disability. There is no label “punishment” here. So 1203.4 benefits only apply to non-registrants? Also, this pertains to domestic and international travel. Those who have earned the 1203.4 do not have to divulge any information to anyone b/c their conviction does not exist. They do not have to register with another state. They do not have to worry about being screen and rejected from travel.

      whoa… this is the first time I’ve thought about how 1203.4 doesn’t really mean anything to registrants b/c the penalty/disability exists. That state just took away a lawful way to pursue and obtain privacy at the same time. The government hasn’t even proven with research why 1203.4 cannot terminate registration. Hell, the government hasn’t proven why registration isn’t applied to every person convicted. I don’t see police officers doing compliance checks on DUI’s. Are DUI’s forced to stay home at every holiday? Are thieves restricted from venturing into any complex of commerce? Are drug users and drug sellers on a map?

      Again, 1203.4 removes all penalties and disabilities. It doesn’t specify whether that penalty or disability was stemmed due to punishment criteria. Yet the state has decided that 1203.4 and its benefits only apply to non-registrants. I feel my civil rights have been diminished as a free and REHABILITATED person.

      Power corrupts… absolute power… well…

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