NC judges say social networking ban illegal - WRBL

NC judges say social networking ban illegal

RALEIGH, N.C. -

A 2008 law making it a felony for registered sex offenders to use social media websites in North Carolina was struck down Tuesday after a challenge by a Durham man.

Lester Packingham Jr., a registered sex offender, appealed to the state after being convicted in May 2012 of accessing a commercial social networking website.

Packingham claimed that North Carolina General Statute 14-202.5 violated his rights to "free speech, expression, association, assembly and the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

He also alleged that the law was vague and not narrowly tailored to achieve a legitimate government interest.

In its decision issued Tuesday morning, the North Carolina Court of Appeals agreed with Packingham and struck down the law based on its constitutionality.

The law "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the 'evil' it is intended to rectify," the three-judge appellate panel said in its 21-page opinion. "Instead, it arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal."

According to the court, the law's application is too broad because it treats all sex offenders the same regardless of the offense committed, the victim's age or whether a computer was used to facilitate or commit the offense.

The court also found that the law fails to give people fair notice of what is prohibited and doesn't specify the difference between mainstream social media sites such as Facebook, where children may be members, from other sites that include a social media arm, such as Google or Amazon.

"The statute prohibits a registered sex offender whose conviction is unrelated to sexual activity involving a minor from accessing a multitude of websites that, in all likelihood, are not frequented by minors," it said in its opinion.

Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks says the decision by the appellate court judges come at a price. Law enforcement will now be forced to spend more time off the streets to monitor the online activity of more than 230 registered sex offenders in Pitt County alone.

"We're going to have to not only wait for them to violate the law but we're going to have to dig more, spend more time on social media sites looking for them and hoping we can recognize that they are a registered sex offender," said Sheriff Elks.

Passed in 2008 as part of the "Protect Children from Sexual Predators" act, the law was backed by Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has been an outspoken voice against predators who find victims on the Internet.

Cooper said Tuesday that the law was written broadly to keep up with changing technology and that he plans to petition the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the appeals court's ruling.

"Technology speeds forward very quickly, and different types of websites and ways to communicate continue to pop up on the Internet," Cooper said.

Packingham was convicted in 2002 for taking indecent liberties with a child, and he was one of 11 people indicted in Durham County in November 2010 for accessing social media sites.

His attorney, Glenn Gerding, welcomed Tuesday's ruling, saying it recognized that the First Amendment applies to his client and others in similar situations.

"Mr. Packingham was not charged with any other charges. There were no allegations that he had done anything improper in this case or done anything except use Facebook," Gerding said. "So, I think, partly, it was a matter of principle but also simply a matter of the state really not having a case against him."

Continue the conversation on our WNCT Facebook page.

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Columbus police officer attacked in Smiths Station again

    Columbus police officer attacked in Smiths Station again

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 6:54 PM EDT2014-08-20 22:54:21 GMT
    The same Columbus police officer was attacked near his home in Smiths Station for the second time in two months, authorities confirm to WRBL News 3.
    The same Columbus police officer was attacked near his home in Smiths Station for the second time in two months, authorities confirm to WRBL News 3.
  • Chattahoochee Valley “Purge” is an urban legend, police say

    Chattahoochee Valley “Purge” is an urban legend, police say

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 2:28 PM EDT2014-08-20 18:28:17 GMT
    Several police departments across the Chattahoochee Valley are reassuring concerned citizens that there will be no real-life "purge" after a social media campaign spread across Facebook on Tuesday.
    Several police departments across the Chattahoochee Valley are reassuring concerned citizens that there will be no real-life "purge" after a social media campaign spread across Facebook on Tuesday.
  • May Mugshots - Northeast Tennessee

    May Mugshots - Northeast Tennessee

    Tuesday, July 8 2014 5:42 PM EDT2014-07-08 21:42:48 GMT

    The following are mugshots of individuals arrested in May by local authorities in Northeast Tennessee.

    The following are mugshots of individuals arrested in May by local authorities in Northeast Tennessee.

  • Most Recent SlideshowsMore>>

  • Cleanup follows heavy storms in Phoenix area

    Cleanup follows heavy storms in Phoenix area

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 8:03 PM EDT2014-08-21 00:03:38 GMT
    Workers at a farm saw hundreds of cactuses sweep away in a flood. Drivers on Arizona's main north-south freeway watched in shock as muddy waters submerged the road. Rescuers across the state rushed to save...
    Residents began cleaning up Wednesday from devastating flooding that slammed Arizona a day earlier, trapping people in vehicles and homes and destroying up to $2 million worth of inventory at a cactus nursery north of...
  • Son of Beaufort Co. woman found dead in fire charged with murder

    Son of Beaufort Co. woman found dead in fire charged with murder

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 5:11 PM EDT2014-08-20 21:11:41 GMT
    The Beaufort County Sheriff's Department has arrested a man suspected of killing his mother.
    The Beaufort County Sheriff's Department has arrested a man suspected of killing his mother.
  • 36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

    36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 9:57 AM EDT2014-08-20 13:57:04 GMT
    Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris early Wednesday in the outskirts of Hiroshima, killing at least 10 people and leaving 22 missing, the government said.
    Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris Wednesday on the outskirts of Hiroshima city, killing at least 36 people and leaving seven missing, Japanese police said.
Powered by WorldNow

1350 13th Avenue
Columbus, GA 31901

Telephone: 706.323.3333
Fax: 706.327.6655
Email: news@wrbl.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.