Regulations that prohibit paroled sex offenders in New Jersey from accessing the Internet without the state Parole Board’s permission do not violate the First Amendment or due process, a state appeals court says.
“The manifest objective of the Internet restrictions in the authorizing statute and the Parole Board’s regulations is not to eliminate the ability of released offenders…to access the Internet in its entirety,” the Appellate Division said Tuesday.
“Instead, the provisions are legitimately aimed at restricting such offenders from participating in unwholesome interactive discussions on the Internet with children or strangers who might fall prey to their potential recidivist behavior.”
In their published ruling, Judges Jack Sabatino, Margaret Hayden and Garry Rothstadt said parolees, especially sex offenders, may be subject to “conditions appropriate to protect the public and foster rehabilitation.”
The attorney for the four men, Ringwood solo Joseph Murphy, says he will ask the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal. “This is not a good decision,” he says. “Everyone has been ordered off the Internet and no one is allowed on without permission. But there are no standards. Their crimes had nothing to do with the Internet.”
The petitioners argue the restrictions are overbroad and unduly deprive them access to information, news, business opportunities and other “benign avenues of expression on the Internet,” such as social media. They also argue that the Internet has become an “increasingly pervasive and vital part of modern life, and that this inability to participate in such everyday communications represents an unconstitutional infringement upon their liberties.”
Sabatino, writing for the panel, cited a long line of federal court rulings that have upheld Internet-use restrictions for paroled sex offenders.
“As the United States Supreme Court has recognized, convicted persons—whether they have been found guilty of sexual offenses or other crimes—are generally subject to a constitutionally-permissible degree of continued governmental oversight and diminished personal autonomy when they are on parole or some other form of post-release supervision,” he said, citing Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (72).
“Guided in part by the weight of authority from other jurisdictions, we are satisfied that the Internet restrictions adopted here by the Parole Board have been constitutionally tailored to attempt to strike a fair balance,” Sabatino said. “Hence, we reject appellants’ arguments to strike them down on their face. We instead uphold the regulations as valid under both the First Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution.”
At the same time, the panel said further fact-finding needs to take place before it can decide whether those paroled sex offenders can continue to be compelled to undergo lie-detector tests. Sabatino said there needs to be a more complete record in order for the panel to determine whether they have any rehabilitative, therapeutic or risk-management benefits.
Murphy says he will appeal that decision as well, saying he has no desire to engage in more fact-finding.
“There are so many instances where [polygraph tests] are unreliable,” he says. No defendant has ever been forced to take a polygraph test. I have no objections to anyone voluntarily taking one, but I do object to forcing someone to do it.”
The consolidated cases are J.B., L.A., B.M. and W.M. v. State Parole Board. Petitioner L.A. had two matters on appeal. He unsuccessfully tried to have a Halloween curfew lifted.
N.J. Division of Law Director Christopher Porrino said of the ruling, “The court recognized the Parole Board’s authority to restrict these offenders from engaging in online interaction with strangers, especially children, in order to protect the public and foster rehabilitation.” ■