Are Sex Offenders Allowed to Have Cell Phones & Computers?

A sex crime conviction carries an inescapable stigma. Sentencing is often harsh, and prisoners are usually the target of violence or harassment from fellow inmates. Even once their prison sentences are served, individuals convicted of sex crimes are subject to some of the most extensive supervised release conditions.

Many of these conditions are well-known to the public, like having to register as a sex offender, being barred from living near schools or playgrounds, and not being able to work in certain fields. To the general public, these conditions seem reasonable. They are designed to prevent future offenses and increase community awareness. But other conditions, like prohibiting or restricting someone’s computer and internet use, may be doing more harm than good.

Sex Offenders Can Be Denied Use of Computers & Cell Phones

Even if the circumstances of your crime did not involve the use of the internet, you can have your digital access stripped away or dramatically restricted when it comes time to establish the terms of your release from prison. How severe the restrictions will be can depend on a number of factors, such as whether you were convicted in state or federal court, local laws, and the circumstances of your case. While it is possible to have your digital privileges completely removed, most individuals are allowed access under strict terms.

Digital restrictions that can be imposed on sex offenders include:

  • Not being allowed to use a computer, cell phone, or other electronic devices
  • Monitored computer use 
  • Having electronic devices subject to search at any time
  • Only being allowed to use a computer under supervision
  • Not being allowed to use the internet
  • Only being allowed to use the internet for specific, pre-approved purposes
  • Being prohibited from looking at pornography
  • Being prohibited from using certain sites
  • Having to supply every username and online alias in use

The Problems with Restricting Computer Use

How many jobs can you think of that don’t require the use of the internet or a computer? Even if you’ve thought of a few, is it possible to apply for those jobs offline? Can you imagine trying to be a college student without access to a computer? Think about how often you use a computer every day, and then think about how difficult life would be if you couldn’t use one anymore. This is the reality that many sex offenders face. 

In our increasingly digital age, it is almost impossible to carry out the daily tasks of life without a computer or cell phone. The problem with restricting digital access to sex offenders is that many of the laws that permit these conditions were written when computers were a luxury—not an essential part of modern life. We have to question whether these restrictions truly make our communities safer or if they simply make it more difficult for sex offenders to reenter society.

Are Computer & Internet Restrictions Constitutional?

As we become more dependent on computers, the justice system is beginning to see the burden that is being placed on sex offenders through probation and supervised release conditions that restrict digital access. In 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that barring sex offenders from social media sites was a violation of the First Amendment. Various circuit courts have upheld or struck down restrictions as the constitutionality of internet and computer bans continues to be questioned. These kinds of cases are only going to become more common. We must find a balance between ensuring public safety and giving sex offenders to best chance to rehabilitate themselves.

Thomas & Paulk, P.A. Can Fight for Your Digital Rights

As Tampa criminal defense attorneys who have handled over 7,000 cases, we have both a relationship with the courts and a thorough knowledge of the law. Our experience can make the difference in your case, even when the conditions of your release have already been determined. Judges can loosen restrictions in response to good behavior or if a compelling argument can be made to show how the conditions of your release are preventing you from successfully reentering society. If you are facing harsh digital restrictions, call Thomas & Paulk, P.A. today.

Start with a free and confidential consultation: (813) 321-7323.

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