Should Convicted Sex Offenders Be Banned from Using Social Media-Facebook?
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a North Carolina case that could set precedence across the country, when it comes to how convicted sex offenders are allowed to use social media.
The case began 7 years ago, when a convicted North Carolina offender took to Facebook to announce he had been let off from a traffic ticket in court. 36-year-old Lester Packingham Jr. had served 10 months in prison for indecent liberties with a minor when he was 21, and required to register as an offender. The post in question read "no fine, no court costs, no nothing. Praise be to God. Wow. thanks, Jesus."
As harmless as his post seemed to be, it violated a 2008 North Carolina law that prohibits registered sex offenders from any use of what are deemed commercial social media sites such as Facebook, because they are also used by children, according to Fox News.
The case reached the Supreme Court after Packingham's attorney sued and the case was upheld in North Carolina State Supreme Court. However, the decision was a split one, with the dissenting judges saying the law is so broad it could violate Free Speech. They said it could be interpreted to prohibit use of common websites, and leaving comments on various issues.
Even experts at the Cato Institute say the law is so broad it could prohibit such offenders from utilizing on-line employment services, or even using news websites, such as Fox News, to stay informed.
Defenders of the law say it keeps predators from potentially having any contact with minors or children, especially since people can and often use fake names, identities or on-line names instead of their real ones. There are cases where offenders have attempted to commit more crimes by luring children or minors via social media.
Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana have similar laws. They require registered offenders, as part of their parole, to reveal any and all online identities or profiles to authorities. They are, apparently, routinely tracked by officials to monitor their activities. That's how Packingham was caught by a Durham police officer. He found Packingham made his traffic court post under an alias instead of his real name on the account. He was tried, convicted of a felony, and given a suspended sentence.
His attorney said there was no evidence he has ever used social media in any inappropriate way, or to help him 're-offend,' and that's why his case ended up in the North Carolina Supreme Court, and now the Supreme Court.
Officials say the Supreme Court ruling will have a major impact on current restrictions given to convicted offenders, and states planning such restrictions.