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Illinois Supreme Court overturns sex offender internet ban

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 21 that prohibiting convicted sex offenders from accessing social media websites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn violated the First Amendment right to free speech. The six participating justices voted unanimously to overturn the state law ban. Chief Justice Anne Burke did not take part in the proceedings. The justices heard arguments in a case involving a man who was sentenced to four years of probation in McLean County for the sexual abuse of a minor. The man committed his crime when he was a teenager and did not use the internet to contact his victim.

The justices were unconvinced by prosecutors who argued that the social media ban helped to rehabilitate sex offenders by eliminating a source of temptation. One justice pointed out that the law does not differentiate between offenders who used the internet to orchestrate and commit their crimes and those who did not.

Another justice wondered why the law did not contain a provision for offenders to access social media websites in situations where their activities could be monitored by probation or parole officers. The justices reached their decision after determining that the ban was not reasonably related to the rehabilitation of sex offenders, which is the goal of supervised release. They concluded that the societal benefits of the ban do not justify infringing on constitutional rights. A spokesperson from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office said that the ruling was being reviewed.

When advocating on behalf of individuals accused of committing sex offenses, experienced criminal defense attorneys may urge prosecutors to consider penalties geared toward rehabilitation. Attorneys might add strength to this argument with mitigating factors such as a previously good record, genuine regret over the behavior in question, a productive full-time job and the support of close friends and family.