CHICAGO – The ACLU of Illinois, joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, today asked the state supreme court to strike down the “incredibly broad scope” of limitations contained in the state’s sex offender registry laws. The amicus brief was filed in the case of Mark Minnis, a young man from downstate Normal who served a 12-month probation for a misdemeanor offense, which he completed.
Though years have passed, Mr. Minnis still is forced to navigate a series of onerous and cumbersome requirements under the State’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).
Mr. Minnis was targeted by law enforcement officials because he failed to provide the account information for a Facebook account to which he had uploaded a photograph. Mr. Minnis did provide the information for two personal email accounts. A state circuit court dismissed the charges, finding that the Illinois law “clearly chills offenders from engaging in expressive activity that is otherwise perfectly proper.”
“We encourage the state supreme court to take a close look not only at the facts in this case, but at the impact that these laws have on the legitimate free speech rights of many Illinois residents,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. “Under the current law, Mr. Minnis and countless others who made bad decisions as teens sacrifice all freedom to anonymous speech on the internet.”
“The Illinois law is overbroad in the amount of speech that is regulated and the number of people who are regulated.”
The two civil liberties groups’ amicus brief filed today notes that such laws are not even justifiable as effective, since sex offenders are highly unlikely to commit a new offense using the internet, and that juvenile offenders (like Mr. Minnis) are particularly unlikely to re-offend since their offenses typically reflect the poor impulse control of an incompletely developed brain. Yet, the Illinois law burdens and limits many types of speech on the internet.
"Illinois' SORA is an overbroad statute that imposes jail time on a sex offender who doesn't report to law enforcement that he has written an online letter to the editor, posted a political comment, or researched health information. This infringement on speech and regulation of Internet expression far exceeds, and in fact has little to do with, the state's interest in deterring sexual offenses," said Sophia Cope, Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
For example, someone subjected to these rules could not engage in any anonymous speech on the internet, despite the fact that anonymous speech has played a critical role in political and societal discourse throughout our nation’s history. The rules also substantially burden religious speech and political speech of other types, even though these areas of discussion have no relevance to the State’s legitimate purpose of attempting to stop recidivism among sex offenders.
“These burdens on speech are just one of the myriad of challenges faced by someone convicted of a whole array of sex-related offenses – even as a youth,” added the ACLU’s Glenberg. “We have built a complex system that severely limits where people can live, where they can work and with whom they interact.”
"Courts around the country have found similar reporting requirements to be unconstitutional, as they severely burden virtually all online speech with only a tenuous connection to law enforcement's interest in protecting the public from crime. We are joining the ACLU in urging the Illinois Supreme Court to come to the same conclusion about SORA," said Adam Schwartz, EFF Senior Staff Attorney.