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Appeals court tackles sex offender use of social media

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Two months after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s law prohibiting sex offenders from using certain social media sites, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana Code 35-42-4-12 violates an Elkhart County man’s First Amendment rights.

In Michael L. Harris v. State of Indiana, 20A04-1204-CR-225, convicted sex offender Michael Harris appealed his convictions and sentence for Class D felony failure to register as a sex offender under I.C. 11-8-8-17 and Class A misdemeanor sex offender Internet offense under I.C. 35-42-4-12. Harris is required to register and report for life. After he was released from incarceration, he filled out an offender registration form, but left blank the spaces for “E-mail/Chat room/Instant Messaging/Social Networking Site Names.”

Police later discovered Harris had a MySpace profile and several email addresses. The AOL account used was registered under Harris’ wife’s name and paid for by her. The state then charged Harris with failure to register and a sex offender Internet offense. He claimed the charges should be dismissed based on ex post facto and free speech violations. He was convicted as charged.

The judges rejected Harris’ claim that I.C. 11-8-8-8(a)(7) chills his expression under the First Amendment. They pointed out that disclosure of online identifiers does not “unnecessarily interfere with his First Amendment freedom to speak anonymous,” citing Doe v. Shurtleff, 628 F.3d 1217 (10th Cir. 2010). They also found the state produced sufficient evidence to support Harris’ conviction of failure to register.
 
The COA acknowledged the recent 7th Circuit decision in John Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana, 12-2512, which held the law regulating social media use by sex offenders is unconstitutional, but pointed out the state court isn’t constrained by the federal court’s decision. Judges Patricia Riley and L. Mark Bailey noted that the parties in this case and remedy afforded differ from Doe, but still concluded that the state’s proffered narrow tailoring justifying the law is unsustainable in light of Doe. The law is unconstitutional as applied to Harris.

Judge Terry Crone concurred in result on this issue, writing, “I acknowledge that we are not bound by the Seventh Circuit’s holding and that Doe is both factually and procedurally distinguishable, but I see no reason to reinvent the wheel here and would reverse Harris’s conviction under Indiana Code Section 35-42-4-12 based on Judge Flaum’s persuasive analysis in that case.”

He concurred with the majority on all other matters.

 

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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