A Wisconsin court overturned a state law law barring registered sex offenders from photographing children in public, saying it violates their right to free speech, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The appellate decision reversed the conviction of a 44-year-old man who had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for the non-pornographic photos. Because of a 2002 child sexual assault conviction, Christopher Oatman was on probation in 2011 when his agent searched his apartment and found a camera and cellphone. On them, authorities found photos Oatman had taken of children outside his residence doing things like riding skateboards, jumping rope and dropping stones in a soda bottle. None involved nudity or obscenity.
He was charged with 16 counts of intentionally photographing children without their parents’ consent, and pleaded no contest to eight so he could appeal on the constitutional issue. A three judge panel said that even sex offenders have free speech rights to take non-obscene, non-pornographic photographs of children in public places. Any law that aims to restrict speech based on its content must be narrowly drawn to protect a compelling state interest. The court found the law failed both tests. The state argued that if a sex offender photographs children only to view them privately, the offender’s First Amendment rights are not affected.