Man arrested for manga collection? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund will take the case!
11:12 AM on 10.11.2008 // Brad Rice
Here's one of those court cases that's going to affect every one of us here in the U.S.: An Iowa man has been arrested for importing manga that was considered to be obscene. As the story goes, the defendant, Christopher Handley, ordered seven volumes of manga from Japan back in May 2006. The Postal Inspector had gotten a search warrant for Mr. Handley after "determining that the package contained cartoon images of objectionable content." Handley was unaware of this and drove back home, leading law enforcement officers to his house, where they seized his collection of over 1,200 volumes of manga, hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, seven computers, and more.
In the past, lolicon manga has been a part of a child pornography case, but this is the first time someone is being prosecuted for just their manga collection. Simon believes that Handley has some lolicon manga on his shelf. Basically, this case is hinging on a section of the PROTECT Act that the judge presiding over this case has ruled that the part of the PROTECT Act dealing with the depiction of minors cannot be applied to this case, and that the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Act can only be applied to "fictional imagery when the image is clearly based on or derived from actual identifiable minors, i.e. a tracing or digital composite imagery."
In the latest issue of the Del-Rey Manga newsletter (which is fantastic, I assure you), Ali Kokmen encourages you to donate to the CBLDF instead of buying a Del Rey manga. Note that the CBLDF is acting as a special consultant -- Handley is already being represented by the United Defense Group, and the big problem here are the obscenity-related charges. What qualifies a work as obscene?
(a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
All three of these need to be proved, otherwise, he's off the hook. As Simon put it: "if a jury finds the material not obscene, they are in effect saying that the material is regularly consumed in their community… at least, that’s what the prosecution would lead the jury to believe." So, there's the uphill battle.
You can check out the press release after the jump.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has signed on as a special consultant to the defense of Chistopher Handley, an Iowa collector who faces up to 20 years in prison for possession of manga. The Fund adds its First Amendment expertise to the case, managed by United Defense Group's Eric Chase, and will also be providing monetary support towards obtaining expert witnesses. Setup email comments
Handley, 38, faces penalties under the PROTECT Act (18 U.S.C. Section 1466A) for allegedly possessing manga that the government claims to be obscene. The government alleges that the material includes drawings that they claim appear to be depictions of minors engaging in sexual conduct. No photographic content is at issue in Handley's case.
"Handley's case is deeply troubling, because the government is prosecuting a private collector for possession of art," says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. "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. We will bring our best resources to bear in aiding Mr. Handley's counsel as they defend his freedom and the First Amendment rights of every art-loving citizen in this country."
Mr. Handley's case began in May 2006 when he received an express mail package from Japan that contained seven Japanese comic books. That package was intercepted by the Postal Inspector, who applied for a search warrant after determining that the package contained cartoon images of objectionable content. Unaware that his materials were searched, Handley drove away from the post office and was followed by various law enforcement officers, who pulled him over and followed him to his home. Once there, agents from the Postal Inspector's office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Special Agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and officers from the Glenwood Police Department seized Handley's collection of over 1,200 manga books or publications; and hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, laser disks; seven computers, and other documents. Though Handley's collection was comprised of hundreds of comics covering a wide spectrum of manga, the government is prosecuting images appearing in a small handful.
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 been vigorously defending Handley, and scored a major First Amendment victory earlier this year when the judge found portions of the PROTECT Act unconstitutional in his ruling on a motion to dismiss. District Judge Gritzner of the Southern District of Iowa found that subsections 1466(a)(2) and (b)(2) of 18 U.S.C. 1466A unconstitutional. Those sections make it a crime to knowingly produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute, "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting," that "is, or appears to be" a minor engaged in sexual conduct. Judge Gritzner found that those sections restrict protected speech and are constitutionally infirm.
Handley now faces charges under the surviving sections of 1466A, which will require a jury to determine whether the drawings at issue are legally obscene. The material cannot be deemed obscene unless it meets all three of the criteria of the Miller test for obscenity: "(a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." The jury must answer all three questions in the affirmative in order to convict.
Eric Chase recognized the importance of the case, and of the CBLDF's contribution to it, in a statement to the CBLDF: "This case represents the latest in a string of efforts by the Department of Justice to encroach on free speech. The United Defense Group is committed to fighting to maintain the protections guaranteed in the Constitution, and we appreciate the CBLDF's support in this fight."
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