W.Va. man fails to persuade 4th Circuit that films aren’t obscene

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A West Virginia man who trafficked in bestiality films violated federal obscenity laws, a federal appeals court has ruled, showing that obscenity prosecutions targeting extremely explicit sexual material, far from being relics of the past, still occur.

In U.S. v. Adams, federal prosecutors charged Loren Jay Adams, who does business in Martinsburg, W.Va., as Hard2FindVideos, with obscenity for selling three films involving bestiality and other aberrant sexual practices.

In May 2008, Adams was charged with violating federal obscenity laws. After a jury convicted him in U.S. district court and he received a 33-month sentence, Adams appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Adams contended that the jury did not watch each of the films in its entirety before making its determination. He also argued that the trial court erred by not allowing his lawyer to introduce evidence showing that similar materials were accessible in Martinsburg through the Internet.

“Here the evidence before the jury was more than sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, despite the jury’s failure to view the films in their entirety,” a three-judge panel for the 4th Circuit wrote collectively in U.S. v. Adams. “Accordingly, we find that the Government presented evidence sufficient to support the jury’s conclusions that, taken as a whole, the films appealed to prurient sexual interests and lacked serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 decision Miller v. California required that in order to be considered obscene, material must appeal to the prurient — defined as morbid or shameful — interest in sexual matters. Other parts of the Miller test require that the material describe sexual material in a patently offensive way and have no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The 4th Circuit noted that Adams never argued that the films in question had any serious value.

The appeals court also addressed Adams’ argument about the exclusion of so-called comparable material. The first two parts of the Miller test — the prurient-interest prong and the patently offensive prong — are judged according to contemporary community standards. Defendants in obscenity cases often try to introduce so-called comparables, showing that similar material has been accepted in the community and does not appeal to the prurient interest.

Adams contended that because similar material was accessible online to people in Martinsburg, that proved the material really did not appeal to a morbid or shameful interest in sex. The appeals court rejected that argument, saying, “the availability of certain materials in the fringe of a community is no indication of community acceptance of it.”

From 2001-2005, during a stepped-up campaign against obscenity by the Bush administration, 40 people and businesses were convicted and 20 additional indictments were pursued, according to the Justice Department’s child exploitation and obscenity section. By comparison, there were four such prosecutions during the eight years of the Clinton administration.

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