WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review a case against a Normal man to determine the constitutionality of Illinois' rules mandating that sex offenders report all their internet activity to authorities.
In a petition filed with the nation's highest court, lawyers for Mark Minnis, 24, are asking for a review of whether offenders' First Amendment rights are violated by a requirement that they report all internet activity to police who then disclose that information to the public.
Minnis was 16 when he was deemed a delinquent juvenile in 2010 for having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years for criminal sexual abuse, a misdemeanor offense.
In August 2014, Minnis was charged with failure to register as a sex offender, a felony, after he failed to include a previously disclosed Facebook account on a registration form.
McLean County Judge Robert Freitag dismissed the charges on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional based on the breadth of information an offender is required to report.
The Illinois State Supreme Court reversed Freitag's ruling in a 2016 decision that recognized that the right to "publish and distribute writings while remaining anonymous" extends to internet speech but, the court ruled, that right is "not absolute."
Minnis' case is on hold in McLean County until a decision by the high court is made about whether to review the case.
In their petition, filed in February, Minnis' lawyers with the State Appellate Defender's Office note "the issues in this case have been percolating through state and federal courts for years now as variations of this scheme have proliferated across the states, part of a flood of ever-more draconian restrictions on sex offenders."
The Illinois Supreme Court decision is contrary to rulings in similar cases in other states, claim Minnis' attorneys. "Illinois is now a national outlier on this issue," said the court filing.
Defense lawyers also criticize Illinois' handling of youth sex offenders, citing research included in a state Juvenile Justice Commission report that juvenile sex offenders are "highly amendable to treatment and highly unlikely to sexually reoffend."
It opposing the review, the Illinois Attorney General's office argues that public availability of sex offenders' internet identities "allows the public to recognize sex offenders when they encounter them online, just as the public availability of sex offenders' current photographs allows the public to recognize sex offenders when they encounter them face-to-face."
People vs. Minnis is not an appropriate case for the First Amendment challenge, the state argues, because the information released on juvenile offenders is far less than what is available for adult offenders.
The Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this year in a North Carolina case involving a sex offender charged with violating the state's ban on internet access. A decision in that case, along with a potential ruling in the Minnis matter, could change sex offender rules across the nation.