In a 1964 ruling, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that while “hard-core pornography” was difficult to define, “I know it when I see it.” And pretty soon, a D.C. jury will be seeing it.
The federal trial against John Stagliano of Evil Angel Productions on multiple obscenity counts begins Tuesday. Jurors will have to view two of Evil Angel’s films and a trailer for a third. Jamin Raskin of American University's law school, quoted by the Washington Examiner, calls the trial “kind of a jury-based movie review. The jury becomes a little focus group on how shocked, scandalized and grossed out people are.”
David Hudson of the First Amendment Center says the case could be significant, since Stagliano’s films are not known for being on the extremes of adult fare. Rather, they’re pretty standard stuff by pay-per-view and instant download standards. Raskin observes that at one time, “Playboy” magazine was considered outside the norm, but now many see it as mainstream.
Still, Stagliano faces up to 32 years in prison, while Evil Angel could be fined up to $7 million for mail and Internet distribution of pornography. The case is rooted in a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that allowed community, not national, standards for defining obscenity -- what’s dirty is Salt Lake City might not be in San Francisco.
Stagliano, a UCLA graduate who once considered becoming a professor of economics, argues that the ruling does not make sense in the Internet age, since porn films are no longer viewable only in movie theaters. He says the framers of the Constitution wisely knew that the “rights of a minority, and especially the most important minority, the individual, needed to be protected against the will of the majority.”