Thought police don’t just exist in science fiction

Saturday, July 14, 2001

A precedent-setting verdict in a legal case in Columbus, Ohio, should give all of us pause, in spite of its disgusting context. If that verdict stands, the implications, for both the First Amendment and personal privacy, are enormous and should disturb all thinking citizens of our nation.

The case involves Brian Dalton, a 22-year-old man who had previously been found guilty of possessing pornographic photos of children. Dalton, placed on probation for his offense, found himself facing a new charge, that of pandering obscenity involving a minor, when his probation officer discovered a personal journal containing descriptions of scenes of sexual molestation and torture of three children, aged 10 and 11, during a routine search. […] Dalton was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the new charge.

First, we would like to offer something of a disclaimer — we do not approve of what Dalton wrote in this journal. His fantasies, revolving around three fictitious children placed in a basement cage and their subsequent sexual molestation and torture, are disgusting and revolting. Dalton should be in intensive therapy, under highly supervised probation, and kept as far away from children as possible.

That said, the contents of his personal journal, their disturbing subject matter aside, are personal.

Dalton admitted to Common Pleas Judge Nodine Miller that he was guilty of jotting down his fantasies in his personal journal. But that journal was never intended to be viewed by any other person. It was not to be published or passed along to others. Whether his actions served any kind of therapeutic value as a kind of release valve is for greater minds than ours to decide. But to levy a new charge against Dalton for his actions?

If Dalton had been charged with a violation of the terms of his probation for possessing indecent material involving a minor, and sentenced to spend the remainder of his probation in prison, we would feel that sentence to be justifiable. After investigators satisfied themselves that the entries in the journal did not involve actual children and were only sexual fantasies, we would have felt increased supervision of Dalton to have been in order.

But what Dalton was charged with was an entirely new count of pandering obscenity involving a minor. Pandering, by every definition we have been able to find, means “to gratify or indulge a person, a desire or weakness.” The only person gratified in this case appears to have been Dalton. Despite the heinous nature of his fantasies, we should be horrified, not gratified, by the verdict handed down in this case.

The “thought police,” those shady denizens of the pages of science fiction, obviously exist in fact as well. We should be very afraid in the wake of this verdict; for if our private thoughts, committed to paper, are no longer private, what¹s next?

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