Appeals court overturns sex offender ban

Jan. 23, 2013 at 1:34 PM
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CHICAGO, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court Wednesday overturned an Indiana law barring sex offenders from social media websites, saying it's too broad.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said in a 3-0 decision the law is unconstitutional because it "is not narrowly tailored to serve the state's interest. It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors."

The suit was filed on behalf of a John Doe arrested in Marion County, Ind., in 2000 on child exploitation charges. He was released from prison in 2003 and put on the state's sex offender registry.

"And because child exploitation is an enumerated offense, [the law] prohibits Doe from using the covered websites and programs," the opinion said. "Doe filed suit ... alleging the law violates his First Amendment rights."

Wednesday's decision overturned a lower court decision upholding the law that argued the plaintiff "never furnishes the court with workable measures that achieve the same goal ... while not violating his First Amendment rights."

The three-judge appellate panel, however, concluded the law "captures considerable conduct that has nothing to do" with minors.

"Indiana prevents Doe from using social networking sites for fear that he might, subsequent to logging on to the website or program, engage in activity that Indiana is entitled to prevent," the decision says.

It adds: "The Indiana statute's over-inclusiveness ... cannot be justified. ... We conclude by noting that Indiana continues to possess existing tools to combat sexual predators. The penal system offers speech-restrictive alternatives to imprisonment. Regulations that do not implicate the First Amendment are reviewed only for a rational basis. The Constitution even permits civil commitment under certain conditions. But laws that implicate the First Amendment require narrow tailoring. Subsequent Indiana statutes may well meet this requirement, but the blanket ban on social media in this case regrettably does not."

The panel ordered the lower court to issue an injunction on the plaintiff's behalf.

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