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The California 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that authorities cannot prevent a convicted child molester from accessing the Internet, despite fears that he might use his computer to commit sex crimes. Ruling in favor of pedophile Ramon Stevens, the court said authorities cannot place so many restrictions on offenders that they cannot earn a living. The ruling could potentially affect many child pornography cases where pedophiles collected illegal images, but did not use computers to commit crimes. “Rehabilitation of a felon entails integration into society where he or she can be self-supporting,” Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert wrote for a three-judge panel in Ventura, Calif. “In appropriate cases, access to the Internet assists parolees to become law-abiding citizens.” Justices Paul Coffee and Steven Perren concurred. Stevens pleaded guilty in 1997 to lewd conduct with a child under 14. Authorities raided his Southern California home and confiscated photos of nude boys and a video of Stevens having sex with an adult male — but found no evidence that he used his computer to download child pornography. Stevens was released in 2002 but ordered by the parole board not to access computers or use the Internet. Stevens later argued that the restrictions cut off potential earnings as an Internet entrepreneur and author, adding that the outright ban was pointless because authorities could access his computer at any time via his Internet service provider. Stevens was granted limited computer rights when the 2nd District issued a show-cause order questioning why he should not be able to access the Internet. But the parole board asked the court to revoke his computer rights, saying it was acting within its authority. The court rejected that argument and said Stevens could go online as long as he avoided pornography. “The broad prohibition on use of the computer and Internet bore no relation to Stevens’ conviction for child molestation and imposed a greater restriction of his rights than was reasonably necessary to accomplish the state’s legitimate goal,” Gilbert wrote. Gilbert added that authorities could monitor Stevens using random, unannounced checks of his hard drive and disks. He also said the parole board “might have explored the implementation of monitoring software, which automatically generates an e-mail to the parole officer should the parolee engage in an illegal use of his computer.” Supervising Deputy Attorney General Julie Garland said the ruling was expected because federal courts have issued similar decisions. “There will be cases that justify the [computer] ban and others that don’t,” Garland said, adding that she did not know if there would be an appeal to the California Supreme Court. Stevens acted as his own attorney.

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