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Supreme Court Strikes Down Parts of 1996 Child Porn Prevention Act

16 Apr, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf


The Supreme Court today struck down two sections of the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act.

One section criminalized anything in movies that made it look like a child was engaged in a sexual act -- even if the actors on screen were appearing as minors, but were actually over the age of 18 and there was no actual sexual activity going on. This would effectively criminalize a large number of mainstream Hollywood movies.

Congress' argument was that even scenes not actually depicting children were still indirectly harmful to minors because such images could spark crimes by potential pedophiles.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the court's decision: “These images do not involve, let alone harm, any children in the production process; but Congress decided the materials threaten children in other less direct ways. The prospect of crime, however, by itself does not justify laws suppressing protected speech.”

So, that broad definition of criminal material was tossed out along with a section that shifted the burden of proof to defendants if anyone were ever prosecuted under this all-encompassing language, said Jeffrey Douglas, board chairman of the Free Speech Coalition, the advocate organization for the Adult Entertainment Industry that challenged the bill.

Under the Child Pornography Prevention Act, defendants, which could include producers of a film, Hollywood studios, theater owners and video store owners, would have had to prove a number of things in order to be acquitted if charged: They would have had to prove that no one in the production was a minor and that no one under the age of 18 had rented or watched the movie in question, and the studios would have had to prove that advertising had not promoted the idea that a minor had engaged in sexual activity.

This part of the law also called for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years that could have seen any movie distributor or wholesaler, including a video retailer, prosecuted as a sex offender and locked up in the same prison population as rapists and pedophiles, Douglas said.

“This decision is great news,” Douglas said. “Not only did we win but court's language could not have been better. They addressed all of the issues.”

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