SPRINGFIELD — The high court heard arguments Wednesday in a case brought by a convicted sex offender banned from social media as a result of his probation.
The man asked the Illinois Supreme Court to rule that the rule violates his First Amendment rights.
In 2014, Conrad Allen Morger was convicted in McLean County of criminal sexual abuse and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The convictions led to a term of probation which included that he was not permitted to access social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
During the hearing held at Lewis and Clark Community College in Madison County, Morger’s attorney, Assistant Appellate Defender Zachary A. Rosen, argued the probation creates a free-speech issue.
He pointed to the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Packingham v. North Carolina. That ruling struck down a North Carolina statute that banned registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking websites.
Rosen told the justices Packingham directly proves Morger’s probation violates the First Amendment.
“The court recognized that for many people, social media websites are the principal sources for knowing current events, for checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise, exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge,” he said. “These websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”
Rosen argued that to foreclose access to social media prevents a person from engaging in their First Amendment rights. And he stressed the distinction between those on probation and others imprisoned or on parole.
But Assistant Illinois Attorney General Joshua M. Schneider, representing the prosecution, said those on probation for sex offenses still live under a form of state custody.
“It is undisputed that the state may restrict the liberty of someone who is in custody pursuant to a criminal conviction in ways that it could not if that person were not in custody, just free out and about the world,” Schneider said. “And because of that, whether a restriction would be constitutional if imposed on someone who’s not in custody, tells us very little about whether that same restriction is constitutional when imposed on someone who’s in custody.”
Because probationers may be subject to certain restrictions on their constitutional rights, the probation handed to Morger does not violate his free speech rights, he argued.
Schneider also said Packingham case did not involve probationers.
“The question does not follow Packingham because Packingham is inapplicable,” Schneider said. “Packingham did not consider a restriction placed in custody.”
The case is People v. Conrad Allen Morger, No. 123643.