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Court: Indiana Cannot Ban Sex Offenders From Facebook

Indiana law bars sex offenders from using social networking sites such as Facebook.

A federal appeals court has ruled Indiana’s law banning sex offenders from using Facebook and other social networking sites is unconstitutional.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in favor of the ACLU of Indiana, which represented a group of sex offenders in Marion County who had completed their sentences. The ruling said the 2008 law violated the free speech rights of sex offenders by limiting what would be legal communication for anyone else, including those convicted of other crimes.

“Laws that implicate the First Amendment require narrow tailoring,” the opinion states. “Subsequent Indiana statutes may well meet this requirement, but the blanket ban on social media in this case regrettably does not.”

The ruling overturned a lower federal court, which upheld the law in July 2012.

Ken Falk, the legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, says the group took the case because the law sought to prohibit behavior that was legal for every other criminal who had completed their sentence.

“These are all people who are not on probation or parole,” Falk says. “Therefore, there are no general restrictions on their first amendment rights. As the 7th Circuit noted, this law was drawn so broadly that it prohibited wide swaths of perfectly innocent conduct.”

While the law sought to limit the potential for communication between sex offenders and children, Falk says there were already laws on the books prohibiting inappropriate communications, including that conducted online.

The ruling orders a lower court to impose an immediate injunction on the law.  State Attorney General Greg Zoeller has not said whether he will challenge the appeals court ruling.

“The Indiana Legislature made a policy decision in 2008 that the state’s reasonable interests in protecting children from predators outweighed the interest of allowing convicted sex offenders to troll social media for information,” Zoeller said in a statement. “We have worked with county sheriffs and prosecutors in our defense of the legal challenges to these protections of our children, and we will need to review this 7th Circuit ruling to determine the State’s next steps.”

John Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana by Indiana Public Media News

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