Crime

NC cyberbully law unconstitutional, NC Supreme Court says

The state Supreme Court issued a ruling on Friday that strikes down North Carolina’s cyberbully law.

The justices said the law was not tailored narrowly enough and violated free speech rights.

The cyberbullying law, adopted in 2009, prohibited the use of a computer or computer network to post or “encourage others to post on the Internet private, personal or sexual information pertaining to a minor” with “the intent to intimidate or torment a minor.”

Robert Bishop, an Alamance County resident, challenged the law after being convicted in 2014 of contributing to a series of vindictive social media posts in 2011 and 2012 in which Southern Alamance High School students targeted a classmate.

After being sentenced to 48 months of probation and ordered to stay off social media web sites for a year, Bishop argued on appeal that the law was overly vague and curbed his right to free speech.

A three-judge panel on the state Court of Appeals disagreed with Bishop and said the law targetted conduct more than speech.

In the ruling released Friday that was written by Justice Robin Hudson, the justice wrote that though legislators had a “laudable goal” when adopting the law it had the potential to “criminalize behavior that a robust contemporary society must tolerate because of the First Amendment, even if we do not approve of the behavior.”

“Civility, whose definition is constantly changing, is a laudable goal but one not readily attained or enforced through criminal laws,” the ruling states.

The ruling overturns the conviction of the first cyberbully case to go to trial in North Carolina.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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