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U.S. Supreme Court Declares Law Banning Sex Offenders From Using Social Media Sites Unconstitutional

On June 19, 2017, the United States Supreme Court held that a North Carolina law that made it a felony for a convicted sex offender to access social networking websites that could be used by children as unconstitutional. According to statistics cited to the Supreme Court, North Carolina has prosecuted over 1,2000 people for violating it. The Court held that the law, which banned offenders from accessing websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, violated the First Amendment.

Lester Packingham, who was convicted in 2002 of a sexual offense and required to register as a sex offender, challenged the constitutionality of the law after charges were brought against him in 2010 for posting on Facebook a comment related to his excitement over the dismissal of a traffic ticket. Mr. Packingham was subsequently convicted for this post and appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court. 

In Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S____ (2017), the Court found that the law violated the Constitution, noting that "North Carolina bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge." The Court indicated, however, that more specific laws aimed at preventing offenders from using social networking sites to contact minors or to gather information on a minor may be permissible and not violate an offender's rights. 

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