US Court of Appeals Rules Ban on Social Media for Sex Offenders Unconstitutional

As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog (wherein I mentioned that the defendant was barred from using social media sites as a condition of his bail), I was surprised to learn that a U.S. Court of Appeals – 7th Circuit (Indiana) had found social media bans for sexual offendersunconstitutional.

Yesterday, a federal appeals court held that an Indiana law which bars most registered sex offenders from using social networking websites, instant messaging services and chat programs, was a broad ban on protected speech rather than a method to curtail speech targeted to minors and is, therefore, unconstitutional. A permanent injunction will now be entered prohibiting enforcement of the law.

In the opinion, the authoring Judge indicated, “Though content neutral, we conclude that the Indiana law is not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interest.” The Judge continued, “It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.” The Judge also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has “invalidated bans on expressive activity that are not the substantive evil if the state had alternate means of combating the evil,” which Indiana apparently does. The underlying message – laws that effect the First Amendment require narrow tailoring. For the full opinion, see Doe v. Marion County Prosecutor.

It is fairly commonplace, in the State of New Jersey and elsewhere, for courts to impose these types of bans in sex offender cases, including (for example) the case that I blogged about yesterday. Perhaps this new federal ruling will prompt lawmakers to take a closer look at the current laws to ensure they are narrowly tailored and not unduly burdensome on the First Amendment rights of sex offenders. Otherwise, there may be a string of similar lawsuits filed in other parts of the country.