Packingham v. North Carolina

137 S.Ct. 1730 (2017)


North Carolina law makes it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” The statute does not extend to websites that “provide only one of the following discrete services: photo-sharing, electronic mail, instant messenger, or chat room or message board platform.” It does not encompass websites that have as their “primary purpose the facilitation of commercial transactions involving goods or services between their members or visitors.” In 2002, D, then a 21-year-old college student-had sex with a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child. P was required to register as a sex offender-a status that can endure for 30 years or more. In 2010, a state court dismissed a traffic ticket against D. In response, he logged on to and posted comments on the personal profile of J. R. Gerrard. The Durham Police Department was trolling for registered sex offenders who were thought to be violating the statutes. The officer noticed that a “‘J. R. Gerrard’” had posted the traffic ticket comments above. The officer discovered that a traffic citation for D had been dismissed around the time of the post. Evidence obtained by search warrant confirmed that D was J. R. Gerrard. D was indicted and the trial court denied his motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the charge against him violated the First Amendment. D was given a suspended prison sentence. At no point during trial or sentencing did the State allege that D contacted a minor-or committed any other illicit act-on the Internet. The Court of Appeals struck down the statute on First Amendment grounds, explaining that the law is not narrowly tailored to serve the State’s legitimate interest in protecting minors from sexual abuse. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the law is “constitutional in all respects.” It held that the law leaves open adequate alternative means of communication. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.