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Iowa Collector Charged for Allegedly Obscene Manga (Update 2)

posted on by Egan Loo
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to assist in man's defense

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) has announced on Thursday that it is serving as a special consultant to the defense of Christopher Handley, an Iowa collector charged with the alleged possession of obscene manga. Handley faces up to 20 years in prison. Handley had received a package of seven manga that the Postal Inspector intercepted and determined to contain objectionable images. With a search warrant, the 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 followed Handley home from the post office and seized his collection of over 1,200 manga volumes; hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, and laser discs; seven computers; and other materials. However, Handley is being charged for only part of his collection.

CBLDF's United Defense Group team, led by Eric Chase, has successfully petitioned District Judge Gritzner to drop some of Handley's charges and rule parts of a controversial law unconstitutional. Handley was initially charged under the United States Code, which was amended by section 504 of the PROTECT Act to prohibit distribution or possession of "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting," that —

• ‘(1)(A) depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and

• ’(B) is obscene; or

• '(2)(A) depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex; and

• '(B) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value;

Gritzner ruled that the last two clauses were unconstitutional as they restricted protected speech. Handley still faces charges under the obscenity clause, if the court determines that the material meets the Supreme Court's Miller Test. The Miller Test dictates that material is only obscene if a jury determines that it meets all of the following three criteria:

  • whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest
  • whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
  • whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein notes, "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."

Update: In July, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa posted the ruling that struck down some of charges against Handley. Handley was originally charged on May 8, 2007. Thanks, hikaru004.

Update 2: According to CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, the start of this case has now been pushed back to February 2, 2009. Thank you to Carl Horn for this information. Eric Chase, the lead defense lawyer on the case, provided a few more details about the manga in question in November, while award-winning comic book writer and Princess Mononoke adapter Neil Gaiman voiced his support for the defense.

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