January 23, 2013
Seventh Circuit Finds Indiana Statute Banning Sex Offenders from Social Media Unconstitutional
In its unanimous twenty page opinion in Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County today, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the Indiana statute restricting registered sex offenders from social media is unconstitutional.
At issue was Indiana Code § 35-42-4-12, prohibiting sex offenders from “knowingly or intentionally us[ing]: a social networking web site”1 or “an instant messaging or chat room program” that “the offender knows allows a person who is less than eighteen (18) years of age to access or use the web site or program.
Recall that the district judge rejected Doe's First Amendment challenge, concluding the statute was sufficiently tailored and left ample alternatives of communication open, and reasoning that many "sex offenders have difficulty controlling their internal compulsions to commit these crimes. It stands to reason that many sex offenders might sign up for social networking with pure intentions, only to succumb to their inner demons when given the opportunity to interact with potential victims."
Reversing, the Seventh Circuit found that the statute was not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interests, but "broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors." The opinion stressed that there were many alternative - and more specific - means by which the state could accomplish its purpose.
The court made clear that the problem was the statute's overbreadth with its caveat:
this opinion should not be read to affect district courts’ latitude in fashioning terms of supervised release, 18 U.S.C. § 3583(a) (“The court, in imposing a sentence to a term of imprisonment for a felony or a misdemeanor, may include as a part of the sentence a requirement that the defendant be placed on a term of supervised release after imprisonment[.]”), or states from implementing similar solutions. Our penal system necessarily implicates various constitutional rights, and we review sentences under distinct doctrines.
Additionally, while subsequent Indiana statutes might meet a narrowly tailored requirement, "the blanket ban on social media in this case regrettably" did not.
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