In 2010, North Carolina resident Lester Packingham Jr. logged on to Facebook to express his excitement in regards to a dismissed traffic ticket. “No fine. No court costs. No nothing. Praise be to God. Wow. Thanks, Jesus,” Packingham wrote. But he published the post under an alias name, and that’s because he is a registered sex offender.
Packingham was convicted of indecency with a minor when he was 21 years-old, spending 10 months in prison. As a registered sex offender, Packingham was barred from using social media sites such as Facebook under a 2008 state law designed to keep those like Packingham from potential contact with children.
Although he used a alias when posting about the speeding ticket, and despite his post having no mention of sex or children, Packingham got nailed by the Durham Police Department after they linked him to the Facebook account. He was charged and convicted, and given a suspended prison sentence for using Facebook.
Packingham’s lawyers say his barring from Facebook goes too far and claims it creates a hardship when searching for a job, and when voicing opinions about elections, etc. Groups like the ACLU and Cato Institute argue that barring sex offenders from using social media is unconstitutional.
This weekend, North Carolina’s highest-ruling court ruled in favor of the state’s previous decision to uphold the sentence, despite detractors believing Packingham’s free-speech protections were breached.
The case now goes to the Supreme Court where it will be decided whether or not the law is Constitutional in its practice.
Stanford law professor David Goldberg believes the North Carolina law is much too extreme. “That goes way, way too far,” Goldberg said. “It’s a crime to do anything, including what Mr. Packingham did, which was to say ‘God is good’ because he was victorious in traffic court. There’s never been any suggestion that he was up to anything but exercising his freedom of speech.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein contends the law is a measure to safeguard children from potential harm. “We have to protect young people wherever they are, whether that’s at school, or at summer camp or increasingly online,”Stein said. “This North Carolina law keeps registered sex offenders off of social networking websites that kids use without denying the offenders access to the internet. It just keeps them off of certain web sites.”
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