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.
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.”
About the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community. They have defended dozens of Free Expression cases in courts across the United States, and led important education initiatives promoting comics literacy and free expression. For additional information, donations, and other inquiries call 800-99-CBLDF or visit http://www.cbldf.org or http://www.myspace.com/cbldf .