Sex-Offender Speech

1st Amendment for all


Are registered sex offenders allowed to photograph children in public? Yes, according to a district appeals court in Wisconsin, which recently affirmed that sex offenders "have the same First Amendment rights as any other" American. The case involves Christopher J. Oatman, 44, who was convicted in 2002 of child sexual assault.

In 2011, Oatman's probation officer found photos on his cellphone of neighborhood children playing outside. Though none of the photos involved nudity, Oatman was in violation of a Wisconsin law saying sex offenders cannot "intentionally capture a representation of any minor" without written consent from the minor's parent or guardian. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and 16 additional years of extended supervision.

But last September, the appeals court not only reversed Oatman's conviction but declared the law he was charged under unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court noted that "the State undeniably has a compelling interest in protecting children" but suggested that this law wasn't necessary toward that aim.

Kids "are not harmed by nonobscene, nonpornographic photographs taken in public places," the court stated. "While we may dislike the fact that someone might have objectionable thoughts when viewing ordinary images of children, the State is constitutionally prohibited from precluding citizens from creating such images."