The Supreme Court will soon hear a case on whether or not states barring sex offenders from social media sites is a violation of their first amendment rights.
In the state of North Carolina, registered sex offenders must not only go through the usual procedures and inconveniences as a result of their sexual crimes, but must also stay off of Facebook and other social media sites for 30 years after their conviction.
While this may sound like a good idea to some, the rule is now being challenged at the Supreme Court level under the argument that social media use falls under freedom of speech.
Lester Packingham was convicted of sexual contact with a 13-year-old when he was 21. Packingham pled guilty to the crime, but claimed that he was unaware of the girl’s age. That was in 2002.
In 2010, now 36-year-old Packingham was convicted of yet another felony, this time, for having a Facebook account.
Packingham’s attorneys argue that social media falls under freedom of speech in the constitution, and that restricting him from using Facebook and other outlets restricts his abilites at education and employment.
The North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein argues that social media is an easy and accessible way for sexual predators to prey on children and other victims.
To his credit, Packingham could have skirted the law and had a secret social media account under a false name – that would have allowed him to act in whatever predatory way he pleased. Instead, he seemed to clearly want to engage in social media like any other modern American, and for that, his life has been further derailed.
This argument also falls into a broader discussion about why sexual predators are the only criminals that we continue to seriously punish far past their jail sentence.
If this law is struck down, it would affect 20,000 sex offenders currently registered in North Carolina.