Justices Seem Likely To Side With NC Man on Facebook Use

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Lester Packingham praised Jesus on his Facebook page and simultaneously committed a felony. His conviction may not stand for long, the Washington Post reports. A majority of the Supreme Court yesterday seemed prepared to strike down a North Carolina law that makes it a crime for a registered sex offender such as Packingham to access social media sites even years after they have served their sentences or completed probation. Packingham, then 21, pleaded guilty 15 years ago to having sex with a 13-year-old and received a suspended sentence. In 2010, he violated the state’s social media prohibition by posting a jubilant Facebook message about escaping punishment in traffic court: “Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? . . . Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!”

Justice Elena Kagan was among several  justices who indicated North Carolina had gone so far in restricting sex offenders’ use of the Internet that the state was violating First Amendment rights. Everyone knows that the president communicates via Twitter, she said, but so do all 50 governors, and members of Congress maintain accounts or Facebook pages as a way to connect with their constituents. “So whether it’s political community, whether it’s religious community, I mean, these sites have become embedded in our culture as ways to communicate and ways to exercise our constitutional rights, haven’t they?” Kagan asked N.C. Deputy Attorney General Robert Montgomery, who was defending the law. Montgomery agreed, but said the state wasn’t restricting everything. “This is a part of the Internet, but it’s not the entire Internet that is being taken away from these offenders,” he said. “They can still have their own blog. They can read blogs. They can do podcasts.”

 

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