New York Court Determines Sex Offender Did Not Need to Register Facebook Account

Sex offenses are serious crimes, and a conviction for a New York sex crime can carry with it many repercussions aside from potential jail time. One of the most onerous consequences for those who have been convicted of a sex offense is the requirement that they register as a sex offender with the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Depending on the type of offense, a defendant may be required to register for a certain number of years, or for life.

The specific requirements that a defendant is subject to depends on the type of crime for which they were convicted. However, registration requirements are notoriously complex. Indeed, it is not uncommon for someone who is subject to registration requirements to violate the law without knowing that they have failed to comply with the registration requirements. This can result in an entirely separate crime, called a failure-to-register offense. A recent state appellate decision discusses New York sex offender registration requirements as they pertain to social media accounts.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was previously convicted of an offense that classified him as a level-three sex offender. As a result, the defendant had to register “any change of address, internet accounts with internet access providers belonging to such offender, [or] internet identifiers.” New York law defines an internet identifier as “electronic mail addresses and designations used for the purposes of chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar internet communication.”

In 2015, the defendant completed his yearly registration, disclosing his internet service provider as well as all his screen names and email addresses. Among the user names he provided was the name the defendant used to access Facebook; however, the defendant did not specifically mention that he had opened a Facebook account. Once law enforcement found out about the defendant’s Facebook account, they charged the defendant with failing to register, a felony offense.

In a pre-trial motion, the defendant argued that a Facebook account is not an “internet identifier” under the terms of the statute, and as a result, he could not be found guilty of the offense. The trial court denied the motion, and then the defendant pled guilty to the crime after ensuring that he preserved his right to appeal the court’s denial of his pre-trial motion. The defendant then filed a timely appeal.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s denial of the defendant’s motion, also reversing the defendant’s conviction. The court explained that while sex offenders must disclose all internet identifiers, “the statute does not require that they disclose the services on which they have accounts.” The prosecution then appealed the intermediate appellate court’s decision.

On appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case against the defendant. The court explained that the law required the defendant to register the email address he used to register for Facebook, which he did. However, the court went on to explain that there is no requirement that the defendant discloses all the accounts he has opened with that email address. The court explained that if the legislature intended to require sex offenders to register specific accounts with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, it could have included such language in the statute.

Have You Been Charged with a Failure to Register?

If you have recently been charged with a New York failure-to-register offense, you may be facing significant penalties, including a lengthy prison sentence, even if you honestly tried to comply with the requirements. At the New York criminal defense firm, Tilem & Associates, we have decades of experience helping our clients defend against the allegations they face and move on with their lives. To learn more, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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