Without giving reasons, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal of Lester Packingham. Packingham was convicted in North Carolina on of two counts of statutory rape for having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. He later pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child. He was placed on the state’s sex offender registry.
In North Carolina law, it’s a Class I felony for a registered sex offender to access any social media site that minor children are permitted to access. Packingham will argue the ban violates his rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
A North Carolina police officer discovered Packingham had a Facebook account under a different name. A post was found where Packingham thanked God and Jesus for the fact he had beaten a traffic ticket. Because of that post, Packingham was charged for accessing social media and was found guilty by a jury. He received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation.
Packingham petitioned the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In 2013, that court vacated the conviction, finding the North Carolina law was unconstitutional. The appellate court ruled the law was vague, arbitrary, and prohibited communications by registered sex offenders that were totally unrelated to the goal of protecting minors. The state appealed.
In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court allowed the appeal and restored the conviction.
In March 2016, Packingham filed with the Supreme Court of the United States. In the petition, he argues he risks punishment for communicating something that does not have to be proven to be harmful. He claims the law not only prohibits him from using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it includes other sites where people, including minors, are allowed to post comments.
The case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court in early 2017 and the decision likely handed down before the end of the court’s term in June.