North Carolina appeals court strikes social media ban for sex offenders

Lester Gerard Packingham (Image courtesy North Carolina Department of Justice)
August 20, 2013 2:00:36 PM PDT
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down North Carolina's ban on registered sex offenders using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The court said the ban in N.C. General Statute 14-202.5 "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the "evil" it is intended to rectify."

"The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and it is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment," wrote the court.

Click here to read the full opinion

The ruling centered around a Durham case in which Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his felony conviction for accessing a commercial networking site last year. According to the trial records, the Durham Police Department was looking at evidence that registered sex offenders were using the websites MySpace and Facebook, and an officer recognized Packingham's photo on Facebook.

The North Carolina law says registered sex offenders may not use commercial social media sites if they know the site "permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages."

But in its ruling, the appeals court said the law "arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal [of preventing contact with children.]"

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wanted the law but admits it may have to be rewritten, but he will try to appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Cooper notes that there are still laws on the books that investigators can use to charge suspects with soliciting children online. However, he believes we need a law to try to prevent child sex crimes before they happen.

"There are laws for soliciting children online and these predators should be convicted to the fullest extent of the law, but that's after the fact," said Cooper. "That's after they have solicited the child.  This law works to put a preventive barrier, to prevent that sex offender from going on line to start with."

If Cooper's attempt at an appeal fails, he says he will go back to the legislature to see if they can craft a new sex offender social media law that will withstand a legal challenge.

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