The North Carolina Supreme Court today heard oral arguments from a pair of lawyers debating whether or not a Durham sex offender committed a crime when he logged onto Facebook under a pseudonym and praised Jesus.
The man, Lester Packingham Jr., who had sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old when he was 21, had been prohibited from accessing any social networking site under a North Carolina law passed in 2008. But in 2010, Packingham, then 29, posted a religious message on his Facebook page after beating a traffic ticket: "Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started. no fine. No court cost, no nothing spent....Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks, JESUS!"
The INDY covered the case last May
, when it was up before the Court of Appeals.
Packingham's true identity was discovered by the Durham Police Department, and he was convicted for use of a commercial social networking site. But Packingham appealed and last year won his case after a unanimous panel of judges determined that the social networking ban infringed on the First Amendment rights of sex offenders.
"[W]e conclude that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-202.5 is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the “evil” it is intended to rectify," wrote the judges in their opinion
. "Instead, it arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal."
The State appealed to the Supreme Court, paving the way for today's hearing. A decision should be handed down sometime in the next several months.