What is the legal definition of obscenity?

Friday, November 15, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court set up a test for obscenity in its 1973 decision Miller v. California. The Court provided three “basic guidelines”:

  • “Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
  • “Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.

  • “Whether the work, taken as whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

These different guidelines are sometimes called the prurient-interest, patently offensive and serious-value prongs of the Miller test.