Can a state forbid registered sex offenders from using social media? Apparently not, a federal appeals court ruled this week.
An Indiana law (Indiana Code section 35-42-4-12) prohibits sex offenders from using social media sites that allow access to those under 18.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this law is too broad, and is an unlawful prohibition on protected speech.
In order for a law such as this one to be upheld, advocates generally have to show that the law is narrowly tailored to the cause. That means the law cannot infringe upon more than what it purports to protect, in order for the law to be constitutionally acceptable.
One huge problem with Indiana's law -- passed by state lawmakers in 2008 -- was that it restricted registered sex offenders, even after they had served their time and were no longer on probation, The Indianapolis Star reports.
The 7th Circuit's ruling now sends Indiana legislators back to the drawing board to figure out a way to draft a law that will withstand constitutional scrutiny.
The decision on the law's constitutionality wasn't entirely clear throughout the legal process, however. A lower federal court had upheld the law, ruling that it furthered the government's legitimate interest in protecting children from predators online.
In fact, the lower court went on to say that the current social media craze has led to a "virtual playground for sexual predators."
But the problem with Indiana's sex-offender social-media law was that its snare went beyond what was required to protect children from sexual predators. The ban on the use of social media by registered sex offenders forbade the innocent use of such channels by many formerly convicted sex offenders from years ago.
The law also stipulated punishments for those who violated the law, including one year behind bars. For those who violated the law again and again, the offense would rise to a felony punishable by up to three years in jail.
But wait-- sex offenders technically still can't use Facebook, despite this law being invalidated. Why? Because of Facebook's own policy, which states: "You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender," CNET reports.
- Court Overrules Indiana's Ban on Sex Offender Social Media (FindLaw's Seventh Circuit Blog)
- Sex Offender Law to Require Facebook Status Update (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- NC Sex Offender Arrested After She Joined Facebook (FindLaw's Blotter)
- How to Use a Sex Offender Registry (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)