A U.S. district judge today refused to dismiss the Justice Department's case against the owner of a major pornography studio, shooting down the defense's argument that federal obscenity statutes are unconstitutional.
The ruling by Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia could pave the way for John Stagliano and his company, Evil Angel Productions, to stand trial as soon as early summer. However, at a hearing today the judge said he would consider allowing defense lawyers to file an immediate appeal of his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
"This is about the overarching legal issue in this case, and needs to be resolved one way or another," he said.
Prosecutors indicted Stagliano and his company in 2008 on charges that they illegally sold and transferred obscene material across state lines. The materials included two DVDs, "Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice" and "Milk Nymphos," as well as a film trailer for "Fetish Fanatic Chapter 5," which was featured on the studio's web site.
In a motion to dismiss the case, Stagliano's lawyers argued that the standards set by federal obscenity laws -- such as the use of "contemporary community standards" to determine what was obscene -- were too vague to govern Internet speech. They also contended that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which found that state laws banning sodomy were unconstitutional, created a right to "sexual privacy," allowing individuals to own and distribute sexually explicit materials.
Finally, the lawyers said also said that by using the District of Columbia as a venue for an obscenity prosecution, the government "chilled" the rights of adult entertainment companies to copyright their work, by making the D.C. juries the "final arbiter" of what was and wasn't obscene.
Leon, who issued his ruling from the bench, disagreed on all fronts. He said that the federal obscenity statutes provided "sufficient guidance to Internet publishers," and that the right of two adults to have a consensual relationship was vastly different from the right to own an adult video.
"The liberty interest the defendants claim pales in comparison to the liberty interest announced in Lawrence," Leon said.