DOJ Will Appeal Obscenity Ruling
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The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) plans to appeal a recent district court ruling throwing out obscenity charges against a Los Angeles adult video production company that distributes its materials over the Internet.
In the first major U.S. obscenity trial in 10 years, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster of Pittsburgh dismissed on Jan. 20 the 10-count indictment against Extreme Associates and its owners Robert Zicari and Janet Romano.
Lancaster ruled individuals have the right to view the material in the privacy of their homes. The judge also said Extreme Associates has the right to distribute the material.
"The Department of Justice places a premium on the First Amendment right to free speech, but certain activities do not fall within those protections, such as selling or distributing obscene materials," Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement. "The Department of Justice remains strongly committed to the investigation and prosecution of adult obscenity cases."
According to a DoJ press statement, the reasoning of the district court in dismissing the indictment, if upheld, "would undermine not only the federal obscenity laws, but all laws based on shared views of public morality, such as laws against prostitution, bestiality and bigamy."
Zicari and Romano were featured on a PBS Frontline investigative show in 2002 focusing on the pornography business. On that show, Zicari challenged law enforcement officials to "come after us for obscenity."
In August of 2003, Zicari and Romano, who often go by their stage names, Rob Black and Lizzie Borden, were charged with distributing obscene videos over the Internet and through the mail.
Federal marshals and postal inspectors from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department, served a search and seizure warrant at Extreme Associates' San Fernando Valley offices for four videos, including one entitled "Forced Entry," which depicts a woman being beaten, raped and spat upon.
Also seized were sales records, distribution records, invoices, transaction records, records of payments and deposits, profit/loss and financial statements, records of accounts payable and accounts receivable, expense records, customer lists, employee records, notes, correspondence and other business papers that reflect or relate to the production, advertisement, distribution, and the sale of the films.
At the time, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said, "If a company is wanting to take advantage of the Internet for marketing and distribution purposes, it's their responsibility to make sure they are not violating local laws."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that material is obscene if it is patently offensive, appeals to prurient interest and has no artistic merit.