Supreme Court hears arguments on social media use by sex offenders

Supreme Court hears arguments on social media use by sex offenders

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments on Monday in Packingham v. North Carolina and Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions [SCOTUSBlog reports]. In Packingham [transcript, PDF] the court considered whether a law that bans the use of social media for registered sex offenders is permissible under First Amendment precedent. In the case at hand, petitioner, a registered sex offender, was arrested for a Facebook post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket. Petitioner argued that the North Carolina law preventing the use of social media is “a stark abridgment of Freedom of Speech.” First he argues that it prohibits conduct unrelated to the preventative purpose of the statute citing the fact that the accused activity had no dealings with minors. Petitioner also argued that in today’s society, social media is a main platform for communication that cannot be barred in its entirety under the First Amendment. Petitioner also made the distinction between creating a statute that prevents this conduct for life for all sex offenders versus conditions of parole in specific circumstances, which are appropriate under First Amendment considerations. Respondent in turn argued that the ban of social media is simply the next step in today’s society. For years, states have banned sex offenders from places where children congregate such as schools, playgrounds and parks. With the advancement in social media, it is a necessary step for the state to also ensure sex offenders do not partake in virtual places where children now spend their time.

In Esquivel-Quintana [transcript, PDF] the court heard arguments on whether consensual intercourse between a 21-year-old and a person who is almost 18 constitutes “sexual abuse of a minor,” which is an aggravated felony. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [INA index], such a conviction constitutes grounds for mandatory removal. Petitioner in the case argued that a definition of sexual abuse as is related to age has a general cutoff of 16 years old or younger. Petitioner stated that while the statue itself did not prescribe an age requirement, various state precedent as well as Congress’s use of the same language in another criminal statute make it clear that 16 is the required age for sexual abuse. Respondent replied that as the definition is vague that the Attorney General and the Board of Immigration Appeals, who were given authority over administering and interpreting the INA should be shown deference in their judgment. Furthermore, Respondent argued that a multi-jurisdiction survey for the definition of “sexual abuse” was inappropriate as compared to a general dictionary definition for the interpretation of a minor as well as defining abuse as a type of activity that regardless of consent, “contain[s] the potential for harm or risk because of … the relationship between the parties involved.”

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