The First Amendment of the Constitution gives us the right to free speech, but there are some limits on what we can say in public. Federal obscenity laws make it a crime to buy, sell, make, or produce obscene material. Obscene material can include written words, visual depictions, or spoken words. The definition of obscenity is anything that fits the definition upheld by the Supreme Court in Miller vs. California. If you are facing federal obscenity charges, hiring an experienced lawyer is essential.
At Jumes Law, we have an in-depth understanding of federal obscenity law. We can offer you a vigorous defense with an excellent strategy. Contact our law firm as soon as possible to schedule your initial consultation.
Federal Obscenity Laws: Which Actions are Criminal?
Under federal law, it is illegal to do any of the following with obscene material:
- Produce with the intent to distribute or sell
- Engage in a business of selling or transferring obscene matter
Those convicted of selling, buying, or transferring obscene material face serious penalties, such as imprisonment and fines.
What Content Meets the Requirements for Being Obscene?
The definition of obscenity has changed over the years. Currently, the Supreme Court uses a three-part test to determine what is obscene. In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), the court used the following three-part test to determine whether the material is obscene:
- Would the average person, using contemporary community standards, find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest?
- Would the average person, using contemporary community standards, find that the work depicts or describes hardcore sexual conduct in a patently offensive way?
- Would a reasonable person find that the work, taken as a whole, lacks artistic, literary, political, or scientific value?
The Miller ruling allowed federal and state governments the right to regulate the following by making it criminal:
- Patently offensive descriptions or representations of ultimate sexual acts that are, normal or perverted, simulated, or actual
- Patently offensive descriptions or representations of excretory functions, masturbation, and lewd exhibition of the genitals
The Miller ruling made it clear that even normal or simulated sex acts can be obscene. Typically, obscene material is anything that meets the three-part test. When pornography meets the obscenity test, it becomes subject to censorship by federal and state laws. Pornography and obscenity charges related to children are always illegal by both federal and state laws.
Federal Obscenity Laws and Minors
The distribution of obscene material to minors is a federal crime. Any transfer of obscene material or any attempt to transfer obscene material to a minor under age 16 is punishable by federal law. Additionally, attempting to transfer or transferring obscene material to minors via the internet is also illegal. Using a misleading website domain name with the intent of deceiving minors into viewing obscene or harmful material is also a federal crime. For example, using a popular children’s toy name in your website address to lure children to obscene material is a federal crime.
Creating visual representations, such as cartoons, paintings, or drawings that depict minors engaging in obscene or sexual acts is also illegal under federal law. Offenders who expose minors to obscenity face harsher punishments than when the obscenity act only deals with adults. Depending on the exact obscenity charge, the standard that is harmful to minors can be different than the standard for adults. The relevant federal obscenity statute includes the following crimes:
- Possession with intent to sell, and sale, of obscene matter on Federal property
- Mailing obscene or crime-inciting matter
- Importation or transportation of obscene matters
- Mailing indecent matter on wrappers or envelopes
- Broadcasting obscene language
- Production and transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution
- Engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter
- Obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children
- Criminal forfeiture
- Distributing obscene material by cable or subscription television
- Transfer of obscene material to minors
Internet Pornography Charges
Typically, the distribution of obscene materials is a misdemeanor charge. However, when these materials are distributed over the internet, federal internet pornography charges may result. When the material involves children, prosecutors will bring serious child pornography charges. Even a mere charge of obscenity can be devastating for a defendant’s reputation. Child pornography crimes are some of the most reviled of all. An internet pornography conviction can negatively affect a defendant’s life for a significant period of time.
The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS)
The CEOS section of the U.S. Department of Justice has the task of enforcing federal obscenity laws. CEO attorneys work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the High Technology Investigative Unit, and the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate and prosecute federal obscenity law violations. With the rampant use of the internet to share obscene content, the federal government has increased jurisdiction to prosecute obscenity charges.
Indeed, the federal government aggressively prosecutes crimes involving obscenities and internet pornography. The penalties are severe and the prosecutors use significant resources to attempt to convict defendants. If you are facing federal obscenity charges, speaking to a skilled lawyer is essential. You need to make sure you are developing an effective defense strategy as soon as possible.
Defenses to Federal Obscenity Charges
If you are facing a federal obscenity charge, developing an effective legal defense strategy is essential. The first strategy would be to deny that you knowingly possessed or created pornographic images. The definition of what constitutes “pornographic” images is somewhat subjective. Arguing that the content in question does not meet the definition of pornographic could be an important distinction.
Another defense strategy could include contending that you did not place the obscene or pornographic images on your computer. Perhaps someone else put the images on your computer without your knowledge.
Call Our Federal Pornography Defense Lawyers Today
At Jumes Law, we have the experience and network of experts to help us defend our clients in federal obscenity charges. Our criminal defense lawyers have a track record of successfully representing clients in federal criminal defense lawsuits. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.