‘Girls Gone Wild’ video of under-18 girl ruled not child porn

Thursday, March 11, 2004

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A videotape of an underage girl exposing her breasts is not child pornography, a judge decided in a criminal case against the producer of the “Girls Gone Wild” video series.

Joe Francis, 30, and several of his employees were arrested at Panama City Beach while filming during spring break last April. Bay County sheriff’s deputies charged Francis with racketeering related to prostitution and other crimes, based largely on videotapes of girls under 18.

Many of the 43 counts he faces hinge on what conduct is considered illegal or pornographic.

“This ruling shows that the entire fabric of that claim is wrong,” defense lawyer Aaron Dyer said on March 9. Dyer said he expected the ruling to undermine at least 90% of the case.

Judge Michael C. Overstreet made his decision in ordering that defense lawyers be allowed to copy tape confiscated during a search of Francis’ rented condominium last spring.

Prosecutors had tried to prevent the copying on grounds that the videotape showing a girl “flashing” her breasts was illegal child pornography. Florida’s child-pornography law makes the depiction of “sexual conduct” illegal and defines that term to include physical contact. There was no physical contact in the video.

State Attorney Jim Appleman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Prosecutors contend Francis and his video crew enticed girls they knew were underage to expose themselves. The defendants denied the allegation and said the girls had lied about their ages.

Francis owns Mantra Entertainment Inc. of Santa Monica, Calif., which produces and distributes the videos.

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