BLOOMINGTON — A requirement that Illinois sex offenders report all Internet sites they use to police is unconstitutional because it violates the offenders’ free speech rights, according to a ruling by a McLean County judge.
Judge Robert Freitag agreed with arguments from the defense lawyer for Mark Minnis, 22, of Normal, that state law is overly broad in its mandate that all email addresses and sites a sex offender uses or plans to use, including Facebook, must be registered with police.
Minnis was charged with failure to register the address of his residence after he missed his annual registration deadline by three days in August. As part of that requirement, he disclosed two email addresses, but did not list a Facebook and Ebay account he uses, according to court records.
States’s Attorney Jason Chambers said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office plans to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision. The high court's ruling will impact all future Illinois cases on the First Amendment issue in sex offender cases.
Defense lawyer Stephanie Wong said Thursday the Internet portion of the law “is not well-written and provides no guidance as to what the requirements are. The statute has to be more narrowly tailored.”
According to Wong, no other court decisions have been issued on the free speech aspect of the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act. In Wong’s opinion, the opinion issued Tuesday by Freitag bars authorities from enforcing the Internet requirement at this point.
In his order, Freitag cited a federal court decision challenging a similar mandate in Nebraska. The court there said ordering a sex offender to report all access to Internet sites “clearly chills offenders from engaging in expressive activity that is otherwise perfectly proper, and the statute is therefore insufficiently narrow.”
Freitag noted that he is not bound to follow the federal opinion, but found the reasoning in the case “to be persuasive and sound.”
Chambers said his office “takes sex offender cases very seriously.”
The conditions imposed on sex offenders living in the community “are not meant as a penalty, but for the safety of those living around them,” he said.
The rules related to Internet access are one of many requirements for Illinois sex offenders. Restrictions on where offenders can live, work and visit puts them at risk for criminal charges and incarceration if not strictly followed.