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Appeals court blocks sex-offender electronic reporting requirement

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POSTED November 18, 2014 7:26 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Registered sex offenders in California don’t have to disclose their email addresses, Internet service providers, screen names and other electronic information to authorities as required by a voter-approved law, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said those requirements violated the free speech rights of about 73,000 sex offenders who have served their prison terms. The ruling upholds a lower court’s order.

The requirements were part of Proposition 35, which 81 percent of the voters passed in 2012.

Proposition 35 toughened penalties for human trafficking, and those harsher prison sentences remain in effect. Those convicted of human trafficking of minors face life in prison. Other human-trafficking convictions involving adults increased maximum sentences from six years to 12 years in prison. In addition, those convicted of human trafficking must register as sex offenders.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the reporting portion of the law, which has been on hold since the lawsuit was filed in 2013. A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ordered the ban to remain in place until the lawsuit is resolved. The 9th Circuit said it appears likely the sex offenders will prevail because the reporting provisions appear to be a clear violation of the First Amendment and a violation of free-speech rights.

California law requires convicted sex offenders to keep authorities abreast of their current addresses and up-to-date photos of themselves. But the court said requiring the sex offenders to continually provide law enforcement officials with their whereabouts online goes too far, and the requirement to report any online changes within 24 hours is onerous.

“The 24-hour reporting requirement is not only onerous, it is also applied in an across-the-board fashion,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “The requirement applies to all registered sex offenders, regardless of their offense, their history of recidivism (or lack thereof), or any other relevant circumstance. And the requirement applies to all websites and all forms of communication, regardless of whether the website or form of communication is a likely or even a potential forum for engaging in illegal activity.”

Bybee said the court’s ruling shouldn’t “seriously hamper the state’s efforts to investigate online sex offenses, as it can still employ other methods to do so.”

California Attorney General spokesman David Beltran said the office is reviewing the ruling to determine its next step. “Attorney General (Kamala) Harris is committed to fighting human trafficking,” Beltran said.

 

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