Obscenity

July 2, 2008

[copied from my old Myspace blog]

Today, my local newspaper, the Staunton News Leader, ran this letter from me:

Obscenity laws confusing and unfair

Over 50 years ago, in a case concerning the sale of books, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment doesn’t protect something vaguely termed “obscenity.” Virginia followed up with a law making the sale of obscenity a felony.

Now here I am, writing a romance novel containing sex scenes. Should I go ahead? If my descriptions of sex are “obscene,” I risk five years in prison. Well, it might help to know ahead of time whether selling my book is a crime. Except there’s no way to know without convening a grand jury, and a grand jury can only consider the question after I’m accused of the crime. Worse, any grand jury’s opinion is only good for that one locality. The Staunton grand jury might say I’m fine, but the Augusta County grand jury could still indict me because it has differing community standards. (Oh, and of course this won’t help me in the federal system, where under 18 USC 1465 I could go to prison for selling a “lewd, lascivious, or filthy book … of indecent or immoral character.”)

I trust this sounds unfair to you, maybe even unconstitutional. Certainly, it’s a perversion of due process. But consider that this is actually happening, right now, in the Staunton Circuit Court — except the accusation is the sale of obscene films instead of books. If convicted on all 16 felony counts, Rick Krial of After Hours Video might spend the rest of his life in prison.

Is this America?

MATTHEW WARNER
Staunton

I’m a little miffed that they used the word “confusing” in my headline.  I mean, I never said the law was confusing.  Vague, maybe.  There’s a subtle difference.  But at least they didn’t alter the body of the letter.

Anyway, what sparked this is that there’s a local porn store owner, Rick Krial, who’s been charged with 16 felony counts of “selling an obscene motion picture.”  One of his employees has also been charged.  The local prosecutor who’s leading this quixotic crusade has gone on the record as claiming that pornography is responsible for AIDS and that nobody in the 1950s had drug problems, among other things.  It’s just a sad, sad drama of small-town politics with chilling implications for the entire artistic world–and that’s what I was trying to show in my letter.  A more detailed analysis of the situation is being reprinted in Horror Isn’t a 4-Letter Word.

Am I going to stop writing my potentially “obscene” romance novel?  Hell, no.  A felony indictment might actually boost sales.