Commentary on Christopher Handley's Sentencing

by Charles Brownstein,

Charles Brownstein is the executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense of First Amendment rights within the comic community since 1986.

From start to finish, the case against Christopher Handley was an appalling abuse of the justice system. It's not alarmist to state that we have now entered the realm of prosecuting people for thought crimes.

Chris Handley is going to jail not because of anything he did, but because of what he reads and thinks. In prosecuting this case, the United States government has distorted the purpose of child pornography laws, which are in place to prevent and punish the abuse of actual people who are the victims of a heinous crime. Putting Chris Handley in jail protects no one — he and his family are the only victims.

Documents now in the public record reveal beyond the shadow of a doubt that Chris Handley represented no threat to his community. Handley's character is similar to so many in fandom. He's an upstanding citizen who served in the armed forces, and then went on to achieve a successful career in technology. He's devoted to his family, and is dedicated to religious study. He's introverted and turns to manga, anime, and online gaming for intellectual stimulation and social interaction. Chris Handley could be any of us.

Chris was prosecuted not because he had engaged in any actions that were a danger to members of his community, but because of his tastes in entertainment. Chris' collection of manga was vast and encyclopedic. A minority of that collection, like a minority of manga, was sexual in nature. It's a fact that the comics Chris is being punished for possessing contain sexually explicit drawings of minors engaged in sexual conduct. The ideas and images, while distasteful to many viewers, are nonetheless drawings of fictional events, not evidence of an actual and despicable crime. No people were harmed, no people were ever at risk. It's telling that among the thousands of items and electronic files sifted through in building the case against Handley, not a single piece of actual photographic pornography was found. Only manga, and a very small amount of it was relevant to the case.

Once the government started building their case against Chris, they didn't have a slam dunk case against a clear menace, they had to squint and search hard to find their case. Part of the case involved subjecting Chris to a battery of psychological testing, which revealed evidence of issues pertaining to sexual and gender identity confusion. These issues hadn't manifested in any behavior that makes him a danger to others, nor was a likelihood that he would become dangerous found. And yet, Chris Handley is losing his freedom — not for harming any people, but for his choice in entertainment and because the government says his personal sexual identity is deviant, even though he's a danger to no one.

When the government begins locking people up for the content of their intellect we are entering dangerous waters. Chris' case is appalling. One hopes that it is not a harbinger of things to come.


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