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Federal Court Strikes Down Sex-Offender Facebook Ban
Posted in Litigation

In an effort to protect the state’s children from online interaction with sexual predators, the Indiana Legislature passed a law that prohibited sex offenders from accessing social networking websites that allow minors to participate, such as Facebook. A Federal appeals court in Chicago has struck down the law as unconstitutional, despite the law’s good intentions.

A convicted sex offender residing in Marion County, Ind., filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in Indianapolis challenging the statute on behalf of himself and other people who would be banned from using social media. “John Doe” argued that he wanted to monitor his son’s Facebook account, and to use social media for other, legitimate purposes. Federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the law is not unconstitutional and that Doe and others have other methods of social media communication they could use, such as blogging or posting on message boards.

Doe appealed that ruling, and this week the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the law was unconstitutional under the freedom of speech provisions of the First Amendment because although the law is content neutral, it is too broad. Judge Joel Flaum, writing for the Court, held that the law bans “substantially more activity than the evil it seeks to redress,” and that “Indiana continues to possess existing tools to combat sexual predators." The Court further held that:

“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.”

This ruling would not prohibit the Indiana Legislature from passing a new or amended version of the law that more precisely addresses the conduct that could lead to unwanted interaction between children and sex offenders.

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