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NC Court Of Appeals Rules That Registered Sex Offenders Can Use Social Media

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The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that registered sex offenders can use social media websites. The ruling invalidates a portion of a North Carolina law passed in 2008 called the Protect Children From Sexual Predators Act.

Lester Packingham, Jr. brought the case. He's a registered sex offender who lives in Durham. In 2012, Packingham, Jr. was convicted of accessing a commercial social networking site. He had been using Facebook.

Glenn Gerding represented Packingham in Court. Gerding argues that the law didn't clearly define what websites were banned.

"It's so broad that it's not just what you would think of as social media websites like Facebook or MySpace, but it could include anything, like Betty," Gerding said. "Or it could even be read to apply to parts of"

"There doesn't have to be any proof that they were using it to stalk children or communicate with children," Gerding told WUNC. "It basically just says if they were a registered sex offender, and they access these websites, that was the crime."

The court's ruling says the law is too broad, and that it unfairly treats all sex offenders the same, regardless of the offense or the age of the victim. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper advocated for the law in 2008.  Cooper says the law needs to be broad, because technology is constantly changing, and that he'll fight to get to a version of the law that can stand. He says he will petition the North Carolina Supreme Court for further review.

"If the courts strike it down, we'll have to go back to the drawing board and find a way to make sure it is constitutional," said Cooper. "Because we do need these protections in place for children."

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