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NC sex offender social media ban struck down

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down North Carolina's ban on registered sex offenders using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to WTVD.

The court said the ban in N.C. General Statute 14-202.5 "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the "evil" it is intended to rectify."

"The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and it is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment," wrote the court.

Click here to read the full opinion

The ruling centered around a Durham case in which Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his felony conviction for accessing a commercial networking site last year. According to the trial records, the Durham Police Department was looking at evidence that registered sex offenders were using the websites MySpace and Facebook, and an officer recognized Packingham's photo on Facebook.

The North Carolina law says registered sex offenders may not use commercial social media sites if they know the site "permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages."

The appeals court said the law "arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal [of preventing contact with children.]"

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wanted the law but admits it may have to be rewritten, but he will try to appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court.

"Sexual predators are on social media plain and simple," said Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill. "They are online; they are trying to talk to children."

O'Neill says the 2008 law, banning sex offenders from using social media, has helped Forsyth County investigators catch offenders.  "We have detectives that their only job is to look online and try to find these people."

About 500 sex offenders are registered in Forsyth County and O'Neill says investigators monitor their online accounts.  "Some of these guys have become so slick that they get online under different names and ghost names."

 WTVD contributed to this report.