North Carolina Cannot Prohibit Sex Offenders from Using Facebook

This case has the potential to be one of the most important First Amendment cases you might never hear about. Lester Packingham plead guilty in 2002 to “taking indecent liberties with a child” for having sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 21. This made him a registered sex offender. Fast forward 8 years. Lester got a traffic ticket, got it dismissed, and took to Facebook to proclaim “Man God is Good!”

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Lester Packingham’s Facebook Post (posted under the name “J.r. Gerrard”)

This got the attention of the Durham Police Department because a North Carolina law makes it a felony for registered sex offenders to access social-networking websites where minor children may be members. Since minor children can have Facebook accounts, Lester was charged with violating this North Carolina law. (The state never alleged that Lester actually contact any minors.) The Supreme Court unanimously struck down the North Carolina law as an unconstitutional restriction of Lester’s free-speech rights. The reason this case has the potential to be important going forward is because the Court’s opinion recognizes the “vast democratic forums of the Internet,” suggesting that online social dialogue may garner substantial First Amendment protection in future cases.

Case: Packingham v. North Carolina, No. 15-1194 (U.S. June 19, 2017) (opinion here)

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