Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Louisiana Sex Offender Internet Restrictions Unconstitutional

In a February 16, 2012 opinion, a Louisiana federal court held that restrictions placed on sex offenders’ Internet access were unconstitutional.

John and James Doe are pseudonyms for two Louisiana registered sex offenders who filed a federal civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that challenged the constitutionality of a state statute, LSA-R.S.14:91.5. The statute, known as the Unlawful Use or Access of Social Media Law, prohibited persons convicted of indecent behavior or pornography involving juveniles, computer-aided solicitation of a minor, video voyeurism or any sex offense involving a minor from using social networking websites, chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks.

The law, which took effect in August 2011, included penalties of up to ten years in prison for a first offense and five to twenty years for a subsequent violation. It provided an exception for sex offenders who received permission to visit a specific website from their probation or parole officer or the court of original jurisdiction in their criminal cases. The ACLU of Louisiana helped challenge the law on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.

The district court noted that the definition of “social networking website,” “peer-to-peer network” and “chat rooem” were so broad as to ban sex offenders from virtually every online site, including news websites and job search sites, and even the website for the federal courts. It also noted that the two plaintiffs, neither of whom were on supervised release, could not avail themselves of the exception in the statute because they had no probation or parole officers and were no longer under the jurisdiction of the court that handled their criminal cases. Thus, they had standing to challenge the law.

The court found that promulgation of a regulation regarding enforcement of the statute by the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was irrelevant to determining the case, since the law only applied to sex offenders on parole or probation, and neither plaintiff was on parole or probation.

The district court held that “the Act is not crafted precisely or narrowly enough – as is required by constitutional standards – to limit the conduct it seeks to proscribe.
Accordingly, on its face, and without considering the regulation, the Act is substantially overbroad and, therefore, invalid under the First Amendment.”

The court further found that despite the fact that “the Act contains a section that offers definitions of selected key phrases, such definitions are insufficiently defined, considering the criminal sanctions imposed in the legislation.” Accordingly, the statute was held “to be unconstitutionally vague and, thus, unenforceable.”

“Although the Act is intended to promote the legitimate and compelling state interest of protecting minors from Internet predators, the near total ban on Internet access imposed by the Act unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life in today’s world,” the court concluded. The state defendants were ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs. See: Doe v. Jindal, U.S.D.C. (M.D. La.), Case No. 3:11-cv-00554-BAJ-SCR.

Additional source: Associated Press

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Doe v. Jindal