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CBLDF in Manga Obscenity Case

Assisting Defense of Collector

Published: 10/10/2008, Last Updated: 10/09/2008 11:26pm

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has signed on as consultant to the defense of Christopher Handley, an Iowa collector who faces up to 20 years in prison for possession of manga that he ordered from Japan.  The CBLDF will add its First Amendment expertise to the case, which is being managed by the United Defense Group's Eric Chase, and the CBLDF will also be providing monetary support towards obtaining expert witnesses.

 

Handley, who is 38 years old, faces penalties under the PROTECT Act for allegedly possessing manga that the government claims is obscene because the books include what the government claims are depictions of minors engaged in sex acts (no photographs are involved).

 

CBLDF’s Charles Brownstein finds the Handley case especially troubling.  “The government is prosecuting a private collector for the possession of art," he said.  "In the past, CBLDF has had to defend the First Amendment rights of retailers and artists, but never before have we experienced the federal government attempting to strip a citizen of his freedom because he owned comic books.”

 

Handley has a collection of over 1,200 volumes of manga; he's being prosecuted for images that occur in just a handful of the volumes in his collection.  Putting the case into context, Burton Joseph, CBLDF's Legal Counsel says, "In the lengthy time in which I have represented CBLDF and its clients, I have never encountered a situation where criminal prosecution was brought against a private consumer for possession of material for personal use in his own home.  This prosecution has profound implications in limiting the First Amendment for art and artists, and comics in particular that are on the cutting edge of creativity. It misunderstands the nature of avant-garde art in its historical perspective and is a perversion of anti-obscenity laws."

 

Eric Chase and his team at the United Defense Group have already scored a major First Amendment victory when the judge ruled that portions of the PROTECT act are unconstitutional, but Handley still faces charges under surviving sections of the act, which will require a jury to determine if the material in question is legally obscene and meets all three of the criteria of the Miller test for obscenity: (1) would the average person find that the material appeals to the prurient interest; (2) does the material depict, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; (3) does the work, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.  The jury will have to find that the material fits all three of the criteria in order to convict.

 
 
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