Heng, the North Carolina Court of Appeals

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Heng, MelaneyPeriod 5 Social Science January 20, 2018 A Sex offender vs the Supreme Court              Only in America, could a registered sex offender claim the state violated his Freedom of Speech. The unusual case began in North Carolina where law § 14-202.1 charges anyone 16 and above – as long as he or she is 5 years older than the child- with Indecent Liberties when he or she participates in lewd sexual activities with a minor 15 years and under. Lester Packingham committed this crime and was convicted 10-12 months in jail. After his release followed a 2 year parole. He was briefly told to stay away from his previous victim and nothing more. Later on in 2010, Packingham was arrested for committing a crime when he went and used the internet on Facebook. In North Carolina, §14-202.5 law prohibited registered sex offenders from using any social media in order to protect children from online predators. The tricky part of it all, is that Packingham posted about a parking ticket with no minor involvement. There he claimed violation against his first amendment.        In this particular case, it began when the lower court favored the state but then the North Carolina Court of Appeals (NCCA) striked down their ruling in favor of Packingham. Then the North Carolina Supreme Court (NCSC) appealed the NCCA in favor of the state. The NCCA believed that it was unconstitutional for North Carolina law to prohibit online socializing, while the NCSC believed it was constitutional for its “limitation on conduct” and not on speech specifically. Meaning the state is more heavily interested in preventing easible access and further possible communications between a sex offender and a minor. Now it is up for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not, it is a violation.       During the trial, Packingham’s lawyer David Goldberg argued that in big previous cases the First Amendment was never harmed. For example in the Simon and Schuster case, the court allowed the serial killer to write about his experience. In comparison to this situation where as Packingham cannot write about his experiences with his case online which helped prove violation. Justice Ruth Ginsburg questioned if Goldberg’s relation was sufficient when states do restrict ex felons from things such as voting or bare arms which are considered fundamental rights just like the Freedom of Speech. Goldberg then disputed her argument saying, there was needed disciplinary action to have gun licenses revoked, but those felons were never stripped of their First Amendment Rights. The main point Goldberg mentioned was that the Carolinian law focused more on if the offender used the internet rather than what the offender actually did and said. He argued that the law was unconstitutional because even though the state had fair reasoning to protect minors, it also majorly punished people who are no longer on parole- for life.        Also, there are no set of boundaries on which certain apps are allowed or not. It is unconstitutional to have an assumption against someone when apps like Facebook, Linkedin, the New York Times all have various functions to it. For example, if the law was then updated to allow the sex offender to go on an app such as dating apps or Linkedin which does not have communications with an enlisted minor would it still breech the state’s reasoning to protect the minor. Yes it would, therefore the law is not efficient in relations to both the state and the sex offender. If there was a solution, it would have been an app that deliberately monitors the sex offender’s activities. And the question would lead to an infringement on the fourth amendment. In other words, if the law directly prohibited any online and physical communications between a sex offender and a minor with intent for sexual gratification then that would be constitutional since it is more narrowly planned. Similarly back to the voting situation where ex felons are not allowed to vote, they are to stay 50 feet away from a booth.        The Supreme Court voted with an 8-0 agreement that the law violated against the First Amendment. Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan all believed that laws cannot widely prohibit speech for a government interest if it is not entirely necessary. Meaning the law was too broad to have been constitutional, since it restricted many internet usages. It would still be unconstitutional even if it was strictly limited to any sort of social media platforms, due to social media’s expanding purposes. The North Carolina law was not specific enough that it restricted websites which had little- to-no possibilities to form any indecent liberty related crime.        Supreme Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Thomas wrote a concurring statement in which they wrote the states should be able to control and regulate internet usage for sex offenders only to a certain extent. They believed it was necessary to withhold any possible abilities a sex offender can have to communicate sexually with a minor in any circumstance.        Lastly Packingham vs North Carolina impacted other states such as Texas. Texas also prohibited the use of social media for sex offenders. Texas tried to indirectly scheme their way around by forcing sex offenders to give out their pseudonyms or have the Department of Public Safety give out the sex offender’s private information to social media sites so Texas can ultimately ban them from the internet. The Supreme Law ruling prevented any existing law similar to the North Carolina one. Now the states have to rewrite their laws to try and prevent sex offenders online. They might have to make a new system to monitor the sex offenders web activity.       In my opinion, I agree with the Supreme Court. I do not like Lester Packingham but I agree he was stripped of his First Amendment. Imagine those circumstances where someone is accidentally caught urinating in a bush due to an emergency, that person would have had to register as a sex offender. It is not fair to have those people wiped of their Freedom of Speech because of the real sex offenders. Only when the sex offender is on parole or convicted with Indecent Liberty more than once, there then be fundamental restrictions against them.        In short, restricting social media usage of a sex offender is a violation of the First Amendment. Packingham’s lawyer explained it was too broad of a law that it did no good to both the state and offender. The state law wiped away any offenders entire online form of speech, which is unconstitutional. Now states like North Carolina and Texas can not restrict a lifelong online engagement unless the offender is on parole. 

Categories: Government


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