The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals [official website] on Wednesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a law banning sexually explicit Internet communications between an adult and minor. The case arose when John Christopher Lo was charged with the third degree felony of communicating in a sexually explicit manner with a person whom he believed to be a minor with an intent to arouse or gratify his sexual desire. Lo appealed his conviction, arguing that the Texas law banning online solicitation [text] of a minor was facially unconstitutional. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted discretionary review to determine the law's constitutionality, concluding Section 33.021(b) of the Texas Penal Code is overbroad because it prohibits a wide array of constitutionally protected speech and is not narrowly drawn to achieve only the legitimate objective of protecting children from sexual abuse. The court also found that children in Texas are protected by other laws that have passed constitutional scrutiny, including statutes banning solicitation, obscenity, harassment and the distribution of materials harmful to minors.
The decision follows an Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website] decision, holding [opinion, text] that Oklahoma's sex registry law is unconstitutional. The decision breaks away from the US Supreme Court [official website] holding in Smith v. Doe [opinion, text]. Some legal professionals have argued [JURIST op-ed] that if enough jurisdictions realize that the state registries (often based on federal sex offender laws) are being applied unconstitutionally, the Supreme Court may reexamine its position in Smith. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) [advocacy website] sought to block a Louisiana law that limited internet use for registered sex offenders. The ACLU challenged the law based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution due to the negative effect that the law would have on the efforts of such an offender to become a productive member of society [texts]. Other states dealing with the issues surrounding sex offenders include New Jersey, South Carolina, California, Indiana and Georgia [JURIST reports].