NJ Appellate Court rules internet ban unconstitutional

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By Mike Desk . . .

SOMERVILLE – A state appellate court ruled on Monday that it is unconstitutional to ban a convicted sexual offender from using the internet to access social media sites.

The court wrote in its 43-page decision that the social networking ban violated the constitutional rights of a sex offender, identified only by his initials R.K., because his convictions for lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child were not related to his use of a social networking website or even the Internet.

In 2007, the state Parole Board added a new condition to his CSL conditions, prohibiting him from using social media, which at the time included Facebook, Match.com and MySpace, without permission of a parole supervisor.

In 2012, R.K.’s parole officer made an unscheduled visit to R.K.’s workplace, examined his internet history and text messages on his cell phone. The parole officer discovered that R.K. had responded to personal ads on Craigslist. The ads, court papers say, were posted by adult women looking for varying forms of relationships and having “fun” without any direct suggestion of sex.

R.K. was then charged with violating his CSL conditions by creating a social networking profile. He pleaded guilty in September 2012 and was sentenced to 364 days in the county jail.

Six years later, he appealed the sentence, arguing that the social network ban was unconstitutional, “overbroad and vague,” adding that his initial crimes were not committed using the internet. A Superior Court judge rejected the argument, but on Monday a state appellate court agreed with R.K.

The appellate court ruled that the ban “completely denies access to R.K.’s ability to express himself in the protected forum of public debate through social networking.”

“Neither the (Parole) board nor its parole officers should be the gatekeeper to determine whether a persons, even a parolee’s constitutional free speech rights via access to social media should be unlocked,” the appellate court wrote.

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