Published August, 2017
Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S.Ct. 1730 (2017).
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking websites that allow minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal web pages. The Court ruled that the law impermissibly infringes on the right to free speech. The law, which the Court ruled was too broad, would restrict access to such sites as Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon.com, and even WebMD.com. In the decision the Court hinted that a more narrowly tailored law could possibly pass judicial review.
The Court did not question North Carolina’s assertion that the law must be broad to serve its preventative purpose of keeping convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims. Bidish Sarma, in a blog piece for the American Constitution Society Blog, addresses this argument—the myth of high sex offender recidivism—and discusses why it is problematic for registered sex offenders. This concern is of particular significance to PLHIV who have been convicted under their state’s HIV exposure or nondisclosure statutes and may be viewed as highly dangerous sex offenders who must be registered as such to “protect public safety.”
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