Ban on Sex Offenders using Internet Ruled Unconstitutional

Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Brian Jackson ruled a state statute that prohibited sex offenders from using internet sites is unconstitutional.

The court found the law overbroad, in that it banned sex offenders who had completed the terms of their sentence from accessing virtually all internet sites, including court websites.

A political science professor Tao Dumas discussing the decision in The Daily Reveille phrased the issue as, "Does your ability to use the Internet constitute speech, and is it protected under the First Amendment?"

Vagueness

A law must clearly identify what conduct is prohibited, and a law can be ruled void for vagueness when it is so unclear that it fails to provide persons with reasonable notice of the activity that is prohibited.

The judge found the terms within the statute were defined imprecisely or lacked any definition, which it was argued, made the Act "unintelligible to the public, unenforceable by police and prosecutors and uninterruptible by the judiciary."

The law, as originally written was so broad that many released offender stated they were afraid to use the internet due to the restrictions.

The court noted that the term "Chat room" was "particularly problematic, as it appears to ban an extensive array of websites-including the website for this Court."

Appeal?

Governor Jindal promised an appeal, but since the ruling, the Louisiana legislature has recently enacted amendments to the law to address the elements that were judged unconstitutional.

In 2009, a federal judge in Nebraska found parts of Nebraska's law were overbroad and unconstitutional. In June, an Indiana district court upheld a law that restricted sex offender's access to some social media sites.

Given the split of decisions, the question will most likely have to be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine what type of internet restrictions may be allowable for released sex offenders.