A juvenile court in Illinois did not violate the First Amendment by imposing social media restrictions on a minor who was adjudicated on robbery and battery charges, an appeals court has ruled. Instead, the social-media restrictions “relate to the goal of the juvenile’s rehabilitation.”
The 17-year-old juvenile, known in court papers as T.B., was adjudicated delinquent for his role in “jumping” two victims and robbing them.
The juvenile court sentenced T.B. to a period of one year of probation but then also imposed some probation restrictions. One of these restrictions prohibits T.B. from participating in any activity that promotes a street gang.
Juvenile prevented from posting about gangs on social media as part of probation
The juvenile court also imposed social media restrictions. These prohibit T.B. from posting on social media “any messages promoting street gang activity” or “displays of any street gang hand signs or insignias.”
On appeal, T.B. challenged many aspects of his delinquency adjudication but specifically made a First Amendment challenge to the social media restrictions.
The Appellate Court of Illinois, 1st District, upheld the adjudication and the social media restrictions in its March 18, 2020, decision in In Re T.B.
Regarding the social media restrictions, the appeals court noted that the restrictions imposed a content-based restriction on speech. “Ordinarily that would pose a serious problem for the State,” the appeals court wrote. That is because content-based restrictions on speech are subject to strict scrutiny – the highest form of judicial scrutiny.
Court says probation rules for juvenile relate to his rehabilitation
However, the appeals court explained that “the rules are different for probationers.” The court explained that the very nature of probation involves greater restrictions on liberty. Furthermore, the appeals court noted that T.B. is a minor and “minors do not enjoy the full protection of constitutional rights as adults.”
Instead, the standard for evaluating juvenile probation conditions is whether they “reasonably relate to the probationary goal of rehabilitation.”
“Given the ubiquity of social media, particularly among younger citizens, restrictions here obviously relate to the goal of the juvenile’s rehabilitation,” the appeals court wrote, adding that “social-media postings that promote or glorify gang activity could have a negative effect on opportunities for higher education or future employment.”
The appeals court acknowledged that it was possible for a minor to “post a message or image with gang signs in a way intended to convey a positive message, such as a message to avoid gangs.” But that was not enough for the appeals court to invalidate the social media restrictions.
David L. Hudson, Jr. is a First Amendment Fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute and a law professor at Belmont who publishes widely on First Amendment topics. He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment titled Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (Now You Know Media, 2018). He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded (ABC-CLIO, 2017).