ALBANY (CN) – A New York appeals court dismissed the indictment Thursday of a sex offender who did not register his Facebook account with the state.
Designated as a level-3 sex offender, the highest designation, Arthur Ellis had served over two years in prison when his use of an unregistered social-media account led to another arrest in 2015.
Unable to sway the Essex County Supreme Court that he did comply with the Sex Offender Registration Act by disclosing his email address and screen names, Ellis pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served.
On Thursday, a five-judge appellate panel reversed.
New York law requires sex offenders to register any “internet identifiers” that they use, but Justice Stan Pritzker wrote for the Third Judicial Department that “an internet identifier is not the social networking website or application itself.”
“Rather, it is how someone identifies himself or herself when accessing a social networking account, whether it be with an electronic mail address or some other name or title, such as a screen name or user name,” Pritzker added. “Defendant’s failure to disclose his use of Facebook is not a crime, rendering the indictment jurisdictionally defective.”
Pritzker noted that a law called e-STOP, short for the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act, allows social-networking sites to preclude sex offenders from signing up.
“The main purpose of e-STOP is to enable social networking sites, or authorized Internet entities, to access these Internet identifiers in order to better protect the users of their websites,” Pritzker wrote.
Pritzker also called it telling that the statute makes no mention of requirement for a sex offender to disclose which authorized Internet entities he uses.
Ellis, now 70, served his previous sentence for promoting the sexual performance of a boy and a girl under the age of 17.
Police arrested the Ticonderoga man after a search of his home revealed several DVDs containing child pornography. Level 3 offenders like Ellis must register for life with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In June 2017, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that barred convicted sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other popular social-media websites, ruling unanimously that such prohibitions encroach lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment.
Ellis was represented by Noreen McCarthy in Keene Valley, New York.
Justices William McCarthy, Michael Lynch, Eugene Devine and Christine Clark concurred with Pritzker’s ruling.