John Stagliano had his case thrown out by Judge Richard Leon early this week. Rather than having been found not guilty based on the First Amendment, it was thrown out because the prosecution bungled their case, and the judge determined that not enough evidence was given to prove that Stagliano was involved with Evil Angel Productions. The counsel for the company said that this was a great day for the First Amendment.
However, I am not so inclined to agree with that statement. Since the case was thrown out of court for a technicality, no precedent has been set in regards to obscenity prosecutions. Therefore, it is possible for other obscenity prosecutions to start up in the near future, and it is unclear which way judge and jury will go in those cases.
The key question is whether the Obama administration has prioritized prosecuting pornography like the Bush administration did. Bush’s Attorney Generals Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Mukasey had made obscenity prosecutions one of their top priorities. The number of cases filed based on sexually explicit material grew exponentially during the Bush years. In 2005, an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force was created within the Department of Justice with the sole purpose of investigating hardcore pornography and bringing it to court. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it was thought that the number of prosecutions would decline to a point comparable to the figures during the Clinton years. However, neither current AG Eric Holder nor President Obama has made any attempt to get rid of the Obscenity Task Force, possibly indicating a continuation of the previous administration’s policies. Not prepared to alienate anybody, Holder told a panel of congressmen that he will pursue, with limited resources, obscenity cases that have the “greatest potential for harm” while being aware of First Amendment considerations. Interpret as you wish.