Illinois courts debate teen defendants social media law

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois courts are considering if a state law that allows judges to limit teen defendants' social media postings unfairly restricts First Amendment freedoms.

Illinois judges have seen how social media can amplify gang disputes. Judges have imposed restrictions to defendants' social media usage with the goal of curbing violence, the Chicago Tribune reported .

But appellate courts have recently split over if such orders infringe on a person's free-speech rights.

Judges have long had the authority to restrict defendants' First Amendment freedoms by dictating who they can associate with, where they go and if they can go online.

"The key question here is, 'Is there a sufficient justification for putting this restriction on defendants?'" said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor and First Amendment expert.

Some attorneys for juveniles said the restrictive orders can be too broad, while prosecutors have argued that the main goal is protecting juveniles.

"The thing that everyone can agree on is that it's good actually to try and put some limitations on gang activity and gang postings, it's just that it needs to be really narrow and not punish wholly innocent conduct," said Brandy Brixy, chief of the Cook County public defender's juvenile justice division.

Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Toomin's office drafted language last year for judges to use at sentencing that bars "photos, videos or messages promoting street gang activity." The language also allows judges to order teens to remove existing content from social media.

The state Supreme Court may eventually need to draw clearer boundaries, experts said.