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Judge upholds sex offender ban from Facebook

June 25, 2012

Indiana’s law banning certain registered sex offenders from using social networking sites that allow minors is not unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled Friday.

John Doe, who was convicted in 2000 of two counts of child exploitation, challenged Indiana Code 35-42-4-12(e), which does not allow certain sex or violent offenders from using social networking sites or instant messaging and chat rooms if the offender knows a person under the age of 18 can access the site. Violating the statute is a Class A misdemeanor, unless there is a prior, unrelated conviction under this section – then it’s a Class D felony.

Doe wants to be able to access Facebook to monitor his teenage son’s activity on it as well as comment on certain news sites that require a Facebook account. He also argues that he wants to use Facebook to advertise his small business, look at family photographs, and communicate with fellow pilots.

Doe is not on any form of parole or supervised release currently, but is required to register on the state sex and violent offender registry for the rest of his life.

Pratt examined the wording and impact of the statute and found that it is content-neutral and narrowly tailored. The statute leaves “ample alternative channels of communication” and does not violate Doe’s First Amendment rights.

Doe can still use email, message boards, and networking sites like LinkedIn that require users be at least 18.

“The Court readily concedes that social networking is a prominent feature of modern-day society; however, communication does not begin with a ‘Facebook wall post’ and end with a ‘140-character Tweet,’” she wrote in John Doe, on his own behalf and on behalf of those similarly situated v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Ind., 1:12-CV-62.

Pratt also rejected his argument that the law is unnecessary because Indiana already prohibits the solicitation of children “by using a computer network.”

“In sum, the need to deter sexual predators reinforces that the statute at issue is not rendered unnecessary by a separate Indiana statute criminalizing online child solicitation. The statute at issue bars a subset of sex offenders from using a subset of web sites that could easily facilitate communications between sexual predators and their prey,” she wrote. “Accordingly, the Court finds that the statute at issue is narrowly tailored to advance a substantial government interest.”

Pratt denied Doe’s request for a preliminary injunction and permanent relief in the form of a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction.

 

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