Court: Sex offender Facebook ban unconstitutional

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The law keeping Indiana sex offenders off sites used by children has been struck down.

A Federal appeals court says it's unconstitutional to ban registered sex offenders from Facebook and other social networking site for their lifetime.

The 7th District Appeals Court ruling means thousands of Indiana sex offenders can no longer be barred from websites used by millions of children with computers and smartphones.

Heather Ricks, mom to three children, calls the decision scary and ridiculous.

"When they made the choice to offend, they made the choice to have those rights taken away," she said.

An Indianapolis father convicted of two counts of child exploitation challenged Indiana in Federal court. The law said anyone convicted of sex crimes against children and some sex crimes against adults could be barred for life from using any social media children have access to.

The Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented the man, identified in court records. It argued that sex offenders are unjustly barred from using Twitter, having a Facebook page, communicating or doing legitimate business over a large part of the Internet.

Director Ken Falk agrees the state has an obligation to protect its children, but says, "This law is so broad. It encompasses huge amounts of innocent conduct."

The 7th District US Court of Appeals agreed, finding "...laws that implicate the First Amendment require narrow tailoring...the blanket ban on social media in this case regrettably does not."

Misty Hughes disagrees. She has six children and thinks sex offenders should be held to different standards.

"Is there really the leeway there to give somebody who's committed a sexual offense against children, a second chance?" she asked.

The legal fight has an unexpected twist. The offender is a parent with custody of a teenage son.

"Mr. Doe's concerned about him on Facebook and who he might meet, but he can't supervise that either, because he can't be on Facebook," Falk said.

The ACLU also argued and the Federal appeals court agreed that Indiana has other laws forbidding inappropriate communications with children over the Internet. Sex offenders can still be prohibited from using Facebook and other sites while they are on probation or parole and under the court's supervision.

The Indiana Attorney General hasn't announced yet whether he will accept this decision or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement Wednesday, Greg Zoeller said: 

"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. 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."

From the Associated Press

A federal appeals court has ruled that an Indiana law banning registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites is unconstitutional.

The 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago on Wednesday overturned a federal judge's decision to uphold the law, saying the ban was too broad.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in June that the state has a strong interest in protecting children and found that social networking had created a "virtual playground for sexual predators."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class-action suit on behalf of sex offenders including a man who served three years for child exploitation. They were all restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)