RESPONDENT: North Carolina
LOCATION: North Carolina Supreme Court Building
DOCKET NO.: 15-1194
LOWER COURT: North Carolina Supreme Court
CITATION: US ()
GRANTED: Oct 28, 2016
Facts of the case
Lester Packingham was convicted of taking “indecent liberties” with a minor in 2002, as a 21-year-old college student. Per North Carolina law, he was sentenced to a standard 10-12 month imprisonment, followed by a 24-month supervised release. Aside from being told to “remain away from” the minor, his conviction entailed no special stipulations. Packingham was arrested in 2010 after authorities came across a post on his Facebook profile, thanking God for having a parking ticket dismissed. He was arrested for violating North Carolina’s laws regarding convicted sex offenders, which barred the offender’s access to social media websites.
Packingham sued the state and argued that the law violated his First Amendment rights. He was convicted in trial court, which found that the state had a weighty interest in keeping sexual predators off of social media websites for the “protection of minors.” The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed and held that the social media website provision of the law was unconstitutional. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed and held that the law was constitutional by finding that the law was a “limitation on conduct” and not a restriction of free speech. The court found that the state had a sufficient interest in “forestalling the illicit lurking and contact” of registered sex offenders and their potential future victims.
Does a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing various websites, where minors are known to be active and have accounts, regardless of whether or not the sex offender directly interacted with a minor, violate the First Amendment?