Supreme Court Considers Banning Sex Offenders From Social Media

Is it legal to require convicted sex offenders to give up friends and family relationships via social media.


The Unites States Supreme Court recently agreed to consider whether or not it is constitutional for a court or a statute to ban registered sex offenders from social media. Those who are perhaps confused by this should realize that the question isn’t whether or not the ban should be implemented, but rather whether or not such a ban is a violation of constitutional rights.


For those of you who are wondering what law we are talking about, it isn’t one here in Michigan. The law in question is on the books in North Carolina, where convicted sex offenders are banned from using commercial websites allowing communication among their users, unless they also ban use by minors. There are no large scale social media websites that ban underaged users that we are aware of, although some sites, like Facebook, do have a minimum age requirement.


In North Carolina, anyone who has been convicted of being a sex offender is not allowed to access any website “that enable communication, expression, and the exchange of information among their users, if the site is “know[n]” to allow minors to have accounts.” This is according to the petition filed by Lester Gerard  Packingham of Durham, who is challenging the law after he was convicted for violating the social media ban.


Packingham  was accused of “taking indecent liberties”  in 2002 with a 13-year-old girl while he was a 21-year-old student. Packingham pled guilty in 2012, and was given a suspended sentence and granted probation. But he was still required to register as a sex offender, which meant that he was not allowed to participate in social media.


In this case, “social media” includes Facebook, YouTube, and, according to Packingham’s Petition. But this law, he claims, violates his First Amendment right, which guarantees free speech to all people in America.


According to SCOTUSblog, the reason Packingham was convicted of violating the social media ban was because he recently posted “Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks Jesus!” on his Facebook wall. The post was a reaction to having a traffic ticket dismissed. But while the post itself was not in any way a threat to anyone else, it was technically against North Carolina’s law. A law that Packingham claims is unconstitutional.


“The reason North Carolina’s law has (so far) been “little copied” (Opp.13) is that it is, as the three federal courts to consider similar measures have concluded, patently unconstitutional.” This is the opening phase of Packingham’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari. A Writ of Certiorari, sometimes informally called a “Cert Petition,” is the document which the losing party files with the Supreme Court, requesting that they review a decision made by a lower court.


In Michigan, there are no laws which keep a convicted sex offender from using social media. However, our judges frequently prohibit people that are on probation or parole from using computers and/or social media. That restriction is imposed as a conditon of the probation or parole. Some people agree with this, and some don’t. But as Packingham has pointed out, this particular law has not been looked on kindly by other courts in the past. We will be keeping a close eye on this particular petition, and will let you know how the N.C. Supreme Court decides.


In the meantime, you can read more about sex assault crimes including rape and molestation, at