Being convicted as a sex offender is unlike any other criminal conviction. For the rest of your life, your rights are severely limited and you have obligations to law enforcement. Each state has different limitations, including restrictions on where you can live and work, and even whether you can socialize online.
North Carolina has some of the toughest restrictions on sex offenders. One of the rights that you lose after being convicted of a sex crime in North Carolina is the ability to join and post on large social media sites: this includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any site that allows minors to join. You don’t even need to have been charged with a sex crime against a minor to have to adhere to this ban!
But as these social media sites become more integrated into the way we communicate, network, and share our lives with others, the ban is turning into more and more of a burden on convicted sex offenders.
Is it violating their right to free speech? Many people think so, and partially because of this the ban could be reversed soon.
Packingham v. North Carolina
The issue of banning sex offenders from social media sites is being challenged in the case of Packingham v. North Carolina. The state actually won the case, but it was taken to the highest court on appeal: the Supreme Court.
Recently, the Supreme Court said that they would hear the case. If the court rules the ban unconstitutional, sex offenders will regain the right to post on and join social media sites.
Packingham v. North Carolina was decided in late 2015, after judges looked at how the social media ban worked within our first amendment rights to free speech. The judges who ruled in the state’s favor offered two main arguments.
The first was that rather than having a social media account being an issue of speech, it is an issue of conduct. North Carolina imposed the ban to prevent sex offenders from using the social media sites to prey on minors. There are less protections on “conduct” than there are on “speech.”
The second argument concerns which sites are available to sex offenders. Yes, Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times’ comment section, and LinkedIn are all included in the ban. But North Carolina argued that there are “ample alternative channels” available that allow the state to put these restrictions in place.
Some of the alternative channels offered by the state in their closing statements include the Paula Deen Network, WRAL.com, Glassdoor.com, and Shutterfly.
Many people oppose one or both of the arguments offered by North Carolina. After all, the “alternatives” given do not remotely compare to the power and abilities of Facebook and Twitter. One billion people are on Facebook, and hundreds of millions post on many of the other sites that are banned. Many people may have never even heard of Glassdoor, Shutterfly, or the other options offered in the Supreme Court statement.
And is the Paula Deen Network really a comparable alternative to Facebook? The Supreme Court may say “yes” or “no,” and their answer could have a profound effect on North Carolina’s laws.
Even if the ban is lifted, though, convicted sex offenders still face many consequences and restrictions after their sentences are finished, including being on the North Carolina sex offender registry.
If you have been charged with a sex crime, fight for your rights: contact a sex crimes lawyer as soon as possible to build the strongest possible defense.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.