Sex offenders have First Amendment right to Internet, social media

By David Booth . . . On June 19, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the value of social media as a pervasive news source and a socially ingrained forum for exchanging communications when it struck down an overreaching North Carolina statute. The North Carolina law under consideration made it a felony for any person on the sex offender registry to access any social media platforms minors use. Justices unanimously agreed that “to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.” Echoing Justice Kennedy in the court’s opinion, it is “a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.”

“All persons” include people on the registry for sex crimes according to the ruling handed down Monday. Packingham v. North Carolina analyzed the extent to which North Carolina’s draconian measure to prevent anyone on the sex offender registry from using social media was necessary and legitimate. Justice Alito mentioned in his concurring opinion that the statute was so broad that accessing Amazon and Walmart could be construed as a violation. Not only was the law extremely broad, but the facts of the case were ripe for a challenge.

In 2002, at age 21, Lester Packingham engaged in sexual wrongdoing with a minor. He was convicted and served out his sentence. Flash forward eight years to 2010, when Lester logged on to Facebook to jubilantly praise God for a dismissed parking ticket. A North Carolina detective discovered the post and arrested him for violating the state ban on accessing Facebook.

Three facts are important to remember. One, Lester was no longer under community supervision, but he was still listed on the state’s registry for sex crimes. Two, Lester was not arrested for committing another act of sexual wrongdoing, nor was he ever convicted for using the internet to engage in sexual wrongdoing. Three, over 1,000 people have been prosecuted under this law since 2008. These facts implicate the North Carolina statute as more of a tool to restrict First Amendment rights and incarcerate people, with less utility given to preventing sexual abuse.

Please read David’s full commentary on the Sex Law and Policy Center website.


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This post was written by someone, or multiple people, within NARSOL.

27 Thoughts to “Sex offenders have First Amendment right to Internet, social media”

  1. AvatarIn Search of Liberty

    Great win for Mr. Packingham and especially for First Amendment freedoms for sure; however, and not to diminish this win but while Packingham may be considered a great white, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Does v. Snyder currently waiting in the wings before SCOTUS can be considered, in my opinion, a blue whale! Snyder will, again in my opinion, FREE RSOs from state sponsored terrorism or doom them to even more repressive restrictions because believe me, if SCOTUS overturns the 6th Circuit’s ruling watch what states, especially in the old “Confederate States of America” does. Pay Attention people! A rebuff by SCOTUS of the 6th Circuit will bring into 2018 America a 1930’s Nazi style roundup of RSOs to be, as were the Jews, on trains, to concentration camps. Think about it. Where else can state legislatures go with sex offender (SO) laws? States already have: registration, residency restrictions, travel restrictions, place restrictions, GPS monitoring, employment restrictions, Polygraphs that RSOs pay for, forced treatment classes, that RSO pay for, in person reporting, not to mention what these laws do to an RSO’s family–need I say more? To RSOs out there you know the S#@! you’re going through with the state, I don’t have to tell you this. But I’m telling you right now, and you should know that there is HATE directed towards you, that if SCOTUS overturns Snyder that states, in order to inflect further punishment will start looking at Nazi style concentration camps—where else can they go with these laws??? Now if you believe that the states are going hold the line, stop where their at, and say, “…well you know, RSOs have it hard enough, we don’t think any more restrictive measures are necessary…” well then in my opinion you’d be damn fool to think so. Yes, if SCOTUS throws our Snyder there will be another round of state sponsored terrorism on RSOs.

  2. AvatarTim L.

    I would like to ask other users of this site about your thoughts on FB. Can should SO’ s take legal action given the in unanimous outcome in Packingham?

    Their bar on use by convicted “sexual deviants” is popular to be sure and yet appears incongruent with Packingham.

    While Lester’s case v NC= stats rights, does it impact FB TOS?

    FB attorneys must be developing a legal position. What are your thoughts?

    1. AvatarMaestro

      Facebook needs to also be reminded that even the precious “children” they’re trying to protect are also becoming sex offenders by sexting and doing all the typical coming of age sexual curiosities we ALL did when we were growing up and ask FB how they feel about not allowing “kids” to join simply because playing “doctor” got them a sex conviction.
      I’d love to know what they’d say to that.

    2. AvatarA conundrum

      When FB goes live with their monitoring of computer cameras of those who log in, it will be interesting then to see what they capture and keep for themselves that may not be suitable for children and older adults and parental discretion is advised.

      It will be even more interesting when children are the culprits because they will obligated to then do something or they themselves will be voyeurs and subject to legal prosecution.

    3. AvatarDave

      FB is supposed to be over 18 anyway if the kid lies to get a FB page it is not anyone else’s fault. Personal responsibility and responsibility for your children is required.

    4. AvatarMaestro


      Facebook is for 13+ which is why they can use the excuse of “protecting the children”
      But keep in mind, as I have mentioned on this site before, it was our state (CT) former Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal (D) who went after Facebook to locate and disable the accounts of people who’s names were matched with the SOR.
      Initially Facebook declined to do that. Then, like Mr Blumenthal ALWAYS does, he threatened them with a lawsuit and they complied.

    5. AvatarSon of Liberty Child of Freedom

      I believe Facebook as Private Company per their Terms of Use agreement can bar any person they see unfit to participate on their Private Domain.

      I do how ever Posit the following agrument:

      Facebook viewed from a current Context I would suggest a more accurate description of Facebook as:

      “A Public Utility”

      Similar to Water, Power, Gas, Sewer, & Telephonic Services those would Never UnReasonably be denied any Human Person for all practical purposes.

      I speak Truth

      As yehovah Lives, so should we

    6. AvatarPublic square access

      I’d think that since SCOTUS said the internet and FB are part of the town square where you can assemble and discuss freely, they don’t have much of a choice even though they are a private company, but publically traded. That would tend to tell me, if you can express an opinion and discuss it with others on any internet based media, then anyone can access it for the express idea of sharing a thought.

      If you are thinking of a class action lawsuit, then it may work. You cannot be part of the public square and restrict who goes there to speak.

      Would have been better for the high court to say parents ought to be parents and watch their children’s online behavior too, but that was not the point of the case.

  3. AvatarRobert

    This is clearly Cruel And Unusual Punishment at its utmost. The Citizens who are not registrants have accessibility to criminal background history checks for a fee via internet,but the country is based and founded on privacy rights. Thereby, it would even more so make any Sex Offender registrant a Labeled Pariah out in society or the community. Note: There are Sex Offenders who have not been caught or apprehended for violating the laws pertaining to crimes of this moral turpitude nature in America. Facebook and Social Media is now presently facing a legal dilemma,to unconstitutionally. deny access or enforce such restrictions on The People, who are required by law to be on sex offender registries across the land. Thus it would be no different by any means than court ordered chemical castration or lethal injection.

  4. AvatarMaestro

    Isn’t it sadly funny how Facebook and other social media (as well as dating sites) will have a TOS that bars RSO’s from using their sites yet people like those who kidnapped and tortured that handicapped man a few months ago are NOT part of such a ban?

    They used Facebook live to ‘show off’ their crime. Yet, anyone of them can make a new FB page with their REAL NAMES and nothing would happen because they aren’t on the SOR.

    So basically, as a country, we’re saying “Any crime you’ve committed is forgivable EXCEPT if it has anything to do with sex be it hands on or no contact. Or even if you were a kid yourself when it happened.”
    What a great country!

  5. AvatarNCResident!

    i am a SO in NC, lowest level, i also dont have a statue 7A and 7B on me—means DA took this off my charge, stating all the restrictions that falls under this statue i am FREE off. i have a daughter who is 4 yo and i am allowed to go parks, school, etc. with ofcourse safety plan that i made with my treatment provider.

    can anyone please tell me is there a lawyer who would fight for me on this matter to take my name off registry? i mean all the restrictions are OFF, per DA, it just they kept my name on registry ONLY resident restriction apply to me. i was charged with solicitation over computer, NO actual victim under the age of 18.


    1. rwvnralrwvnral

      NC resident–I am not sure what judicial district you are in or who your DA happens to be, but if you were convicted of solicitation then the language of the statute presumes that your victim was less than 18 even if, as you say, there was no victim. The language of the new NC premises statute restricts access to a whole host of places and distances from places (300ft) where children frequently congregate and are also present. And this stipulation applies to 1) anyone convicted of an Article 7B offense OR 2) anyone who has been convicted of a sexual crime against a minor (such as use of a communication system or computer to solicit a minor WHETHER or not the target was actually a minor or pretending to be so). So, you may want to read back over the statute again because whatever your DA has led you to believe or whatever your DA has freed you from (which it is not in his discretion to do) does not comport with the language of the statute as is presently exists (See NCGS 14-208.18). You are in harm’s way. Also, I’m curious about your statement regarding a treatment provider. Do you remain on supervision?

    2. AvatarNCResident

      Yes, im on probation–supervised but no monitor or anything, also i have reviewed this restrictions with my attorney, been taken of by my DA, verified with sheriff official and with PO cheif. they are all aware of these. see we are very confused because you said im in harms way, but my lawyer and I made sure what this was all about.

    3. rwvnralrwvnral

      What part of the state are you in? Not trying to confuse you here, but I can point you to several attorneys that would wonder what your attorney is drinking….not to mention the district attorney. The language of the new statute is extremely broad in its reach. I’m happy that you have sought your attorney’s perspective, but the situation you are describing there certainly does not exist in the rest of the state. The legislature’s intention, while overbroad and exceedingly vague from a legal standpoint, is otherwise clear: IF you’ve been convicted of a 7B offense OR an offense involving a minor, they do not want you near any place where minors may be. Schools, playgrounds, parks with playgrounds, sporting events, churches, even McDonalds. So, again, I’m very eager to learn what area of the state you are in.

    4. FredFred

      I dont know about NC, but I have noticed inconsistancies in other states, where the registrant gets a break no other registrants in the state get. I know of someone in Virginia, twice convicted within the last five years and served prison time and he doesn’t even have to register for some reason, and no, he was not a juvenile, and his offense is considered violent and involved a minor both times. Then there is the guy caught masturbating to the LA Rams’ cheerleaders in broad day light during a game with people around and he got only I think 3 months of probation and no registering requirements.

      It’s a real head scratcher and makes me think they had brilliant lawyers or connections in high places.

    5. AvatarNCResident

      i live in watauga co. up in western NC. and AGAIN i repeat yes i am ommited from statue 7a and 7b, which describes all the places where minors congregate, which i am legally allowed, even my POs knows of this. i would love to get a lawyer who could help me get my name off registry, though they told me i can petition after 10.

    6. rwvnralrwvnral

      Article 7B defines a number of sexually based offenses as a part of NC’s criminal statutes and is merely referenced by a separate statute that controls where registered citizens may not go or be. It does not describe where anyone can congregate. N.C.G.S. 14-208.18 describes where you cannot be in addition to some of the places minors congregate. Nobody is “omitted” from any state statute. That’s impossible. The law is the law and it applies to everyone who is expressly scooped up into its provisions. Law enforcement has no authority to excuse people from following the law no matter what the District Attorney says. And you can forget about petitioning to be removed from the registry if you remain on probation. That’s simply not going to happen. There’s not a judge in this state (or any other) who would grant a motion of removal for a person serving probation. You’re still under a sentencing order.

      Explain to me please how you can be “legally allowed” to do something that the law makes illegal. Who has such power as that?

  6. AvatarMaestro

    I have a question:

    What happened with released sex offenders BEFORE Megan’s Law? What was their probation like? Was there anything that requires them to not live or go to certain places?

    When I was a teenager, my friend’s girlfriend’s father got nabbed for sexual assault against his own nieces.
    He had been doing it to them for years. They were teenagers when they asked “uncle Bob” to buy them tickets to a concert and he declined. So….they decided that if he wasn’t going to do what they asked, they were going to “out” him for the years of molestation. And they did.

    He ended up doing 5 yrs. but when he got out, and I was maybe reaching age 20 and this was in 1993-ish, I do not recall him having any stipulations against going to movie theatres, parks, malls, etc. and he moved right back where he lived which was a neighborhood with lots of kids around.

    So, prior to Megan’s Law, I’m assuming someone convicted of a sex offense was treated no different than any other offense once released from prison.
    But because 1 psychotic child molester in NJ decided to kidnap, rape and murder a little girl, we ALL have to face such draconian excess punishment?
    Not to sound mean but Megan wasn’t the only little child this ever happened to in the ENTIRE history of mankind. We’re getting a bit ridiculous with naming laws after kids.
    People are literally acting as if sex offenses NEVER happened prior to that incident and that those of us on the registry were on it since birth.

    What if that man in NJ did NOT have a prior record and Megan was his first and only victim?

    I’d really like to see someone do an interview with the Kanka family and get their views on the monster that the SOR has become.

  7. AvatarUnforgiven

    Concentration camps, really ? Only if we pay for it.The state I live in is already losing there a$$ on the pubic registry,costing more to run it then the Fed money they get ! I read the stories on here and can’t believe how bad it is for registrants in some states.So my point is,not all states are the same,if yours is a nightmare, move.So far I haven’t encountered much other than having to register. On social media topic,why is everyone so eager to put their name out there ? My theory is ( don’t rock the boat,especially if your in it ) Personally, I stay below the radar as much as possible,seems to have worked so far.

    1. FredFred

      Why didn’t we think of that? Let’s just move and problem solved. You are brilliant.

      Seriously, I strongly discourage anyone from moving to escape restrictions. All it takes is one high profile incident and your new state will be enacting even harsher laws, and even without that incident, lawmakers are always looking for easy votes. They know beating up sex offenders is a sure thing. Your best hope is to stay where you are and keep fighting for change.

    2. FredFred

      To address your other point. It makes me sad that you are encouraging registrants to give up their voices and remain quiet and under the radar, as if they are less than citizens who shouldn’t even want to make their voices heard on any topic or enjoy the benefits of keeping in touch with family on social media, like most of the world does. The times are changing, the internet is the more common way to sharing with others, whether you approve of it or not. You seem to be implying we should crawl under a rock and keep to ourselves, because that is how you are comfortable.

    3. AvatarUnforgiven

      Ok sir stick your neck out there if you choose, hopefully you won’t have to come back on here crying about how the world is so cruel. Sounds like you should be a counselor at one of the sex clinics we all were forced to go to.Most of their advice could and sometimes did have disastrous results. I read on here how a guy on facebook got his life destroyed,his business ruined and can’t show his face in town where he lives.But again I no expert,but I can how ever show my face in town without so much as a glance. I’m not advocating hiding under a rock,but before you reach your goal of change maybe consider what could happen.

    4. FredFred

      You have made it clear that you do not think regaining equal rights should be priority. I don’t understand why you are here.

    5. AvatarUnforgiven

      WELL I have faced the fact that for now there is no equal rights in all of this,would I like to see our rights restored, oh my god yes!! Why am i on here,because i have a voice as you do, just because you dont agree with isn’t enough to scare me into hiding. What i think or say has never been popular concerning the rules ,restrictions, But you know what,it really does work ! I have a good job ,cars and will soon be buying as wrong as u think I am it defiantly work’s ,i would love to share my story in the new thing this site has,but no way is my name and face getting put out there. I would like to help other guys in the same situation as I find myself in, but how do I do this without getting my teeth kicked in??

  8. AvatarDino Marx

    The point of the matter is, if we don’t stand up together as one we will never accomplish anything. These lawmakers are having a field day with sex offenders and its only because its only a few people that are fighting to ease off a bit on these ridiculous laws. Today its us tomorrow it’ll be one of yours, and that’s a promise. People make mistakes everyday, and some of the sex offenders that have made this mistake will never make it again. I’ve seen murderers that have taken lives and forever hurt the hearts of families that have lost those loved ones get off easier than someone who slept with a sixteen year old female. I remember being in sixth, and seventh grade and these young girls were sleeping around with guys already. This was early 80’s, Can you imagine these young girls nowadays? Its funny how if a 15 or sixteen year old teenager murders someone, the law tries them as adults, but when a sixteen year old female sleeps with an older guy she’s a child. I don’t say that rape is alright, its wrong wrong wrong, but if a 16 or 17 sleeps with an older guy she knew exactly what she was doing. Whatever the case, every sex offender has loved ones that will back them up in trying to change some of these ridiculous laws, and together I think something positive can be done.

    1. AvatarUnforgiven

      Hey dino marx,you are right on about the point u have made,if u find yourself in the Romeo n Juliet situation, as u probably already know,states are staring to look at these cases as a way to lighten the load on their registries. Hopefully your state is one of these. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could all come together as one voice ? But differing views will be a stumbling block .there’s a dude that thinks every thing someone else says opposing his opinion is wrong and has no right to say anything! Regardless I have decided to voice my opinion just to piss people off !! We have all been through enough of being a yes man on probation and admit things true or not! That being said, If u are in that situation,there is hope closer than some other registrants being freed from our crimes, wait, did I actually say that ? My bad,.some of us it its actually forget we committed a crime,not saying I think things are fair,but a guy who got caught in a police sting and thinks he’s better than those who had a hands on crime ,really,only difference is he didn’t get that far!!! So maybe I’m too cynical for some,but look at the reality of all this

    2. AvatarDino Marx

      Unforgiven, one thing about people that are SO’s and are in parole or probation, you better watch what you say to them. I had one lady in a class that I go to that if I move the waters they would make it very hard on me. She threatened me, but what can anyone labeled as an SO do about that? One voice will not be heard but if we come together, anything is possible, there’s strength in numbers. We have it worse than anyone, and the media makes sure that it stays that way. I mean, its a money making business and these lawmakers are doing every thing possible that we have no way out. We need help asap before it gets worse.

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