North Carolina sex offender law faces tough Supreme Court test

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of a state law affecting sex offenders.

A North Carolina sex offender law is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and, if the questions being asked by the judges are any indication, the law could soon be declared unconstitutional. That law prohibits registered sex offenders from using a number of websites, most notably social media sites. While the law's supporters say it is designed to crack down on recidivism, critics say it is a clear violation of the First Amendment protection of free speech. As Newsweek reports, the justices on the country's top court have yet to rule on the law's constitutionality, but already they seem to have taken a skeptical stance towards it.

What the law does

The law in question was passed in 2008 and it bars people on North Carolina's sex offender registry from using online services that could lead to them interacting with minors. If a registered sex offender uses a site covered by the law, such as Facebook, Twitter, and even some news sites, that individual could be charged with a criminal offense. The law covers anybody on the sex offender registry, even if the offenses they were originally convicted for did not involve a minor. The law does not require that a defendant actually have intended to use the online service for illegal purposes.

In fact, this particular case stems from a North Carolina man who was convicted in 2002 of statutory rape when he was 21 and had had sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl. He was arrested for violating the social media ban not because he had actually used any online service to interact with minors, but because a police officer noticed he had used Facebook to talk about a traffic citation.

Free speech concerns

In an age when so much of public life occurs online, banning people from using social media and other websites is a serious restriction on the free speech rights. The individual challenging the North Carolina law argues that that is precisely the problem. Critics of the law saw that any restriction on First Amendment rights should be narrowly defined. The North Carolina law, on the other hand, seems overly broad.

As Forbes reports, that skeptical attitude was taken up by most members of the Supreme Court. A number of justices noted that given that so much political debate nowadays, most notably through President Trump's Twitter account, occurs via social media, the law threatens to bar citizens from engaging in political discourse and current events. While the court has yet to rule on the constitutionality of North Carolina's law, most commentators seem to believe that the justices are leaning heavily towards overturning the law.

Criminal defense law

Being charged with a criminal offense is a frightening experience. For those facing a sex crime charge, the situation can feel even worse since many people treat such accused individuals as being guilty before they have had a chance to argue their case in court. When facing such serious charges, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will help fight for the defendant's rights and assist them in maintaining their freedom.

North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.