Md. man loses bid to argue literary defense to child-porn charges

Thursday, June 21, 2012

There is no literary or research defense to receiving or possessing child pornography, a federal judge in Maryland ruled recently.

Charles Johnson of Rockville, Md, who was charged with receipt and possession of child pornography, had argued that he should be able to argue at trial that he accessed the material in question for research and writing purposes. The government filed a motion seeking to prevent Johnson from being able to assert such a defense. U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. granted the government’s motion and denied Johnson’s literary defense. He explained his reasons in a June 15 memorandum opinion in United States v. Johnson.

Williams relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York v. Ferber (1982) and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Matthews (2000) for the principle that the motivation of the defendant is not relevant or a viable defense in child pornography cases.

Ferber was the decision that specifically branded child pornography as a category of expression not entitled to any free-speech protection. Previously, child pornography was deemed unprotected speech only if it qualified as obscenity. Meanwhile, in Matthews, the 4th Circuit rejected the defenses of an award-winning journalist who was charged with receiving and transmitting child pornography.

In the Maryland case, Johnson contended that because he did not produce or distribute any sexually explicit images of minors, his acts of viewing child pornography did not cause further victimization or exploitation of minors. But Judge Williams wrote: “Defendant does not even cite a single case where a court held that a broad literary defense is admissible in the context of child pornography.”

A news release from the U.S. Department of Justice reports that a federal jury on June 14 convicted Johnson of the federal child-pornography charges. The release indicates that sentencing in the case will take place in late August.

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