Rhode Island Senate Bill 2610


Summary

Rhode Island Senate Bill 2610 would criminalize the knowing and intentional use of a computer or electronic device to disseminate depictions of graphic or lascivious nudity or graphic sexual conduct to a person known or believed to be a minor.

A violation of the legislation would be a felony subject to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000 or both. Any person convicted of violating this law would have to file with the state as a sex offender.

It is companion to Rhode Island House Bill 7766.

Status

The Senate Committee on Judiciary recommended the bill be held for further study.

Analysis

The legislation is unconstitutionally overbroad, because it goes far beyond what the Supreme Court has said can be banned for minors. Such material, known as “harmful to minors,” is defined by a three-part test announced in Ginsberg v. New York and modified in Miller v. California. The definition in the legislation does not include any of the prongs from the Miller/Ginsberg test.

If the definition in the bill were to include the Miller/Ginsberg test, it would still be unconstitutional if it were applied to websites generally accessible on the Internet. Courts have struck down laws that applied “harmful to minors” to the Internet, because they limit online content to what is acceptable for minors, and thus depriving adults of their First Amendment rights to access material that is legal for them.

The only exceptions to these decisions have been laws that were tied to luring or enticing a minor to engage in unlawful activity, or were limited to “harmful to minors” material that meets the three-prong test and was intended to be communicated directly to a specific person that the speaker has actual, rather than general, knowledge is a minor or believes to be a minor.

History

  • On March 4, 2014, the bill was introduced [2] and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
  • Media Coalition sent a memo in opposition [1] to the members of the committee on March 10, 2014, explaining the constitutional issues with the bill.
  • The committee recommended the bill be held for further study.

Last updated: Sep 14, 2015