Law banning sex offenders from Facebook is unconstitutional, court says

A federal appellate court in Chicago recently ruled that an Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from using social networking sites accessible to children – like Facebook – is unconstitutional. The court’s decision reasoned that the law was too broad and that it violated the free speech rights of registered sex offenders.

Sex offender living restrictions

It is common for states to place several types of living restrictions on registered sex offenders. For instance, in addition to having to register with local authorities, offenders are often limited in the areas in which they are permitted to live or the jobs they are allowed to take. Courts have long permitted states to enforce these restrictions on registered sex offenders – meaning the recent federal decision is a departure from this trend.

Specifically, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was charged with reviewing the constitutionality of an Indiana law that prohibited certain sex offenders from “knowingly or intentionally us[ing]: a social networking web site” or “an instant messaging or chat room program” that “the offender knows allows a person who is less than eighteen (18) years of age to access or use the web site or program.”

Opponents of the law argued that the law is so broad that it prevents registered offenders from using social media for legitimate purposes or innocent communications – a viewpoint presented to the appellate court.

When reaching its decision, the court noted that this “blanket ban” went too far as it “broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.” The court went on to say, “The goal of deterrence does not license the state to restrict far more speech than necessary to target the prospective harm.”

Social media and Illinois sex offenders

Here in Illinois there are laws that require those convicted of certain sex crimes to refrain from using, or even accessing, social networking sites while they are on probation, mandatory supervised release or parole. While not necessarily binding on Illinois courts, it remains to be seen how the recent federal decision may impact these laws in Illinois.

If anything, the recent decision does bring to light the severe living restrictions that lawmakers put on all registered sex offenders, regardless of their alleged crimes. For instance, the recent federal appellate decision even noted that the law at issue did not differentiate based on the manner in which the predicate sex crime was committed, the age of the victim at the time of the offense nor the time that had passed since the predicated offense was committed. Accordingly, if you have been accused of a sex crime it is important to speak with an experienced sex crime defense attorney in order to protect your rights as the consequences of a conviction are quite severe.

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