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Sexual Predator Laws

Packingham v. North Carolina - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 3-30-17 featuring Ilya Shapiro
Ilya Shapiro March 30, 2017

On February 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Packingham v. North Carolina. Lester Packingham was convicted in 2002 of taking “indecent liberties” with a minor in violation of North Carolina law, and sentenced to prison time followed by supervised release. In 2010, he was arrested after authorities came across a post on his Facebook profile--which he had set up using an alias--in which he thanked God for having a parking ticket dismissed. Packingham was charged with, and convicted of, violating a North Carolina law that restricted the access of convicted sex offenders to “commercial social networking” websites.
 
Packingham challenged his conviction on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the North Carolina statute unlawfully restricted his freedom of speech and association, but the Supreme Court of North Carolina ultimately rejected his claim. The website access restriction, the Court concluded, was a content-neutral, conduct-based regulation that only incidentally burdened Packingham’s speech, was narrowly tailored to serve a substantial governmental interest, and left open ample alternative channels of communication.

The question before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether, under the Court’s First Amendment precedents, a law that makes it a felony for any person on the state's registry of former sex offenders to “access” a website that enables communication, expression, and the exchange of information among users--if the site is “know[n]” to allow minors to have accounts--is permissible on its face and as applied to Packingham.

To discuss the case, we have Ilya Shapiro, who is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute.

Courthouse Steps: Packingham v. North Carolina - Podcast

Free Speech & Election Law Practice Group Podcast
Ilya Shapiro March 02, 2017

In Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court will decide whether the First Amendment bars a state from banning citizens from accessing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A North Carolina state makes it a felony for any person on the state's registry of former sex offenders to "access" a wide array of websites--including Facebook, YouTube, and nytimes.com--that enable communications among users if the site is known to allow minors to have accounts. The statute does not require the state to prove the defendant has actually had contact with a minor, intended to do so, or accessed a website for any illicit or improper purpose. ​Lester Packingham was convicted of violating the law for a Facebook post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring "God is Good!" Packingham and his supporters contend that law amounts to a sweeping, overbroad, and vague ban on protected speech untailored to any legitimate interest and unjustified by any compelling need.

Featuring:

  • Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute

Supreme Court Preview: Packingham v. North Carolina - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Jonathan Sherman, Melissa Arbus Sherry February 23, 2017

On February 27, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Packingham v. North Carolina. This First Amendment case deals with whether a state may bar citizens from accessing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A North Carolina state law makes it a felony for any person on the state's registry of former sex offenders to "access" a wide array of popular websites that enable communications among users if the site is known to allow minors to have accounts. The statute does not require the state to prove the defendant has actually had contact with a minor, intended to do so, or accessed a website for any illicit or improper purpose. In the trial court, the Defendant was convicted of violating the law for a Facebook post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring "God is Good!" Some contend that the law amounts to a sweeping, overbroad, and vague ban on protected speech untailored to any legitimate interest and is unjustified by any compelling need.

Jonathan Sherman, Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner and Melissa Arbus Sherry, Partner at Latham & Watkins will provide a preview of this interesting case.

Featuring:

  • Jonathan Sherman, Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner
  • Melissa Arbus Sherry, Latham & Watkins

Scarlet Letters and Federal Mandates: Reconsidering Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and the Adam Walsh Act - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Eli Lehrer, Nicole Pittman, Stacie D. Rumenap, Marc A. Levin May 12, 2016

Given the understandable public fear of sexual predators, policies concerning sex offenders have often become politicized. Many critics say these policies have too often swept up consensual conduct and conduct by those as young as 10 years old into the same regulatory framework as the most horrific sexual assaults committed by adults. A growing body of research indicates that placement of youths on public sex offender registries, sometimes for the rest of their lives, can have a serious impact on their ability to secure employment and housing, that of their current and future family members. In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act, which threatens states with the withholding of tangentially related federal funds if they do not comply with the federal policy it set forth on public registration of not only adults, but also juveniles, including lifetime registration. Dozens of states have declined to comply with this federal mandate, citing both federalism and cost concerns. On this Teleforum, several experts in the field discussed the impact of current juvenile sex offender registration policies at the federal and state levels as well as proposals for reforms.

Featuring:

  • Eli Lehrer, President. R Street Institute
  • Nicole Pittman, Stoneleigh Fellow and Director, Center on Youth Registration Reform, Impact Justice
  • Stacie D. Rumenap, President, Stop Child Predators
  • Moderator: Marc A. Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime

Lockhart v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 5-6-16 featuring Erin Sheley
Erin Sheley May 06, 2016

On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Lockhart v. United States. Petitioner Avondale Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his presentence report concluded that he was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement, which is triggered by prior state convictions for crimes “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” Lockhart argued that the limiting phrase “involving a minor or ward” applied to all three state crimes, so his prior conviction did not trigger the enhancement. Disagreeing, the District Court applied the mandatory minimum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. 

By a vote of 6-2, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Second Circuit. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that the phrase “involving a minor or ward” in §2252(b)(2) modifies only “abusive sexual conduct.” Thus, Lockhart’s prior conviction for sexual abuse of an adult was encompassed by §2252(b)(2) and the 10-year mandatory minimum applied.

Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joined.

To discuss the case, we have Erin Sheley, who is Assistant Professor at University of Calgary Faculty of Law.