If You Care About Free Expression, Be Outraged: The Obscenity Trial of John Stagliano, Happening Now in DC

If things go as anticipated, the federal trial of pornographer John Stagliano on multiple counts of obscenity will get into full swing this afternoon. If convicted on all counts and given the maximum sentence, he faces up to 32 years in jail and a $7 million fine. At issue are three videos distributed by his company Evil Angel: Milk Nymphos, Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice, and trailer for material by porn maker Belladonna.

(Full disclosure: Stagliano has been a donor to Reason Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that publishes this website.)

Last week, the judge in the case disallowed Stagliano's expert witnesses and the trial will basically hinge on whether 12 people from the DC area think that the material in question (purchased online by federal agents and delivered via the mails to a prosecutor in the nation's capital) is obscene and hence not worthy of First Amendment protection. Due to its very subjective nature, obscenity is a horrible concept, allowing for one piece of work to be punishable by prison time in one place and critically acclaimed in another. That all of the people making and consuming the material do so of their own free accord matters not at all.

To call this prosecution a waste of time and resources in an era of dead-broke government is an understatement. To call it a full-frontal assault on the right of people to get on with their lives and on freedom of expression gets closer to the truth but doesn't capture the sheer idiocy of the enterprise.

As attempts to muzzle disfavored speech through political manipulation (i.e. campaign finance regulations) or technological means (Net Neutrality) or out of concern for "the children" (expanded content regulation by the FCC or other state agencies) proceed apace, think about John Stagliano, sitting in the dock and facing an effective life sentence for providing consenting adults with dirty movies they were willing to pay for.

Reason.tv interviewed Stagliano shortly after his indictment. Click to watch below or go here.:

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  • ||

    I'm not sure Stagliano's stuff is any more distasteful than a typical Frank Rich column.

  • JB||

    No shit.

    As for reason's outrage, that could be easily expressed by a few people outside holding signs saying "Obama is a Cunt".

    Anyone in DC have some balls?

  • ||

    This is exactly what has to start happening. We have to stop letting the unlucky victims suffer alone. One day it's them, the next day it's you.

    A smart old guy said something like, if we don't hang together, we'll certainly hang apart.

  • ||

    How about FoxNews and FoxNews Business running down America.
    If our enemy had such as TV station
    you would be asking for their head.

  • ||

    The films that are a real horror is the evidence of death camps in Europe that killed jews, catholics, gays and gypsies as well as russians...to build a better Germany.

  • Almanian||

    I'll know it when I see it...and yep, this prosecution is typical statist, nanny, intrusionary bullshit.

    Thanks for filling in for Radley, Nick. I didn't know my nuts needed a good kicking this morning, but thanks to you, they got one.

    *ow*

  • ||

    I'll know it when I see it...and yep, this prosecution is typical statist, nanny, intrusionary bullshit.

    Good for the goose, good for the gander, right?

  • Almanian||

    Snark was on high

  • ||

    Not sure if we're on the same page here. I was just saying that if it's good enough for an obscenity conviction, then it should be good enough for our condemnation of the gov't.

    So, you may have been snarking but it's actually a good idea.

  • Ted S.||

    Your nuts always need a good kicking. :-p

  • ||

    This trial is an obscenity.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    +1

  • Fluffy||

    Who were the expert witnesses and why was their testimony disallowed?

  • Abdul||

    There's a little information here: http://www.xbiznewswire.com/view.php?id=121234

    Without being able to read the motions and responses, it's hard for me to say if the right call was made.

  • ||

    I would assume the experts were diary farmers and NRA marksmen.
    And maybe a proctologist.

  • ||

    I think the judge didn't want the jury's time wasted by listening to the psychobabble of talking heads on both sides. Seriously, what would so-called experts add to this?

    The Justice department's budget should be reduced drastically, they obviously have money to burn.

    And the persecutor [sic] should be hanged as an Enemy of the Constitution.

  • PIRS||

    Now that the government has violated every other part of the constitution they feel comfortable enough to violate the 1st as well.

  • NeonCat||

    If he is convicted, expect all future porn to include lengthy discussions of the Bill of Rights so that censoring it will blatantly violate the 1st Amendment.

  • ||

    News from 2014: 99% of American teen males now know the Bill of Rights by heart.

  • zoltan||

    Only 54% of teen females know the Bill of Rights--thank Twilight and True Blood spin-off porn.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    I just don't get it. Whose rights is the court supposed to be protecting with this obscenity trial?

  • Skid Marx||

    The babies who were deprived of their suppers.

  • zoltan||

    The court is protecting the right of nosy busybodies to get turned on by stuff they're too repressed to actually enjoy. Instead those busybodies get off on persecuting people who do enjoy it (and make money off it).

  • ||

    The rights of prosecutors to bring head-lining grabbing cases?

    The rights of prudish Americans to ensure that their neighbors aren't enjoying themselves?

  • ||

    I am wondering how much we, the taxpayers, are paying per annum for the team(s) of federal agents to scour the internet and other merchandising outlets to discover and procure items that they *believe* could be perceived as obscene to others. Maybe they could help offset their cost by getting paid to double as mystery shoppers - providing feedback to vendors on the quality of service provided by their sales staff!

  • ||

    Well, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II spent millions of dollars "combating porn"
    did you oppose these guys at all?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Due to its very subjective nature, obscenity is a horrible concept, allowing for one piece of work to be punishable by prison time in one place and critically acclaimed in another.

    I've mentioned this previously in regard to the Stagliano trial, but it bears repeating - filmmaker Takashi Miike has several film featuring projectile lactation (among other things), including Visitor Q and Gozu. Although I haven't seen any of Stagliano's films, I can't imagine the difference between them and a film like Visitor Q (review on link) is but a matter of degrees.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I should probably also add - for clarity - that unless someone's rights were violated during the making of a film, that film should not be censored, and the filmmaker should not be punished.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    I agree completely. We've developed ratings systems for movies...adequate warnings about content of movies is a good thing. Censorship? No.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Also, I can't believe I haven't watched Visitor Q yet.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It is the most disturbing film I've ever seen. And I've seen the uncut version of Cannibal Holocaust.

  • ||

    You want to see disturbing, see the Dutch "The Vanishing"
    And I thought Miike's "Audition" was pretty good.

  • tr0n||

    The only disturbing parts of "The Vanishing" were the length and absurd story.

  • ||

    I don't dare click those links here at work, but... projectile lactation?

    Hell, I do that all the time when I'm nursing. Didn't know it was obscene. I'll wait for my prosecution.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The first link is imdb.com, the second is a "Bright Lights" film review. I didn't see anything workplace-objectionable, but I also didn't scroll through the entire page.

    Don't bring video of yourself nursing into the workplace, or you could get into big trouble, apparently.

    Finally, I should have pointed out that Miike was making an anti-censorship statement with Visitor Q, which is part of the reason it's so outrageous, even for him.

  • Charles||

    LOL.. could the screencap of Gillespie look any more like he was having some kind of physical crisis?

    and this prosecution is b******t.

  • ||

    He looks like he's trying to push out a huge Krugman which is halfway out and he can smell it and it's terrible.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Ha ha ha ha, perfect, Nick!

  • Jeremy Kareken||

    "I should probably also add - for clarity - that unless someone's rights were violated during the making of a film, that film should not be censored, and the filmmaker should not be punished."

    Why censor at all? You call it "offensive." I call it "evidence." Prosecute the mofo and hang him high.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I don't think we're in disagreement here. What I meant is that if someone's rights have been violated while a film has been made, they did not agree to have their images shown on film - at least not in the manner presented. To allow distribution of such a film to the general public would be a further violation of their rights.

  • T||

    Hmm. What if I film you getting an epic, undeserved, rights-violatin' beatdown by the cops in public? You have no expectation of privacy, and your rights were violated by the cops. Does that mean I can't sell my footage of you getting a hickory shampoo?

  • zoltan||

    Should you be allowed to profit from its distribution? Real question here.

  • tr0n||

    Yes. Profit doesn't change the expectation of privacy. People filmed in public have no right to stop others from using that film.

    This kind of thing happens all the time. You might have heard of this TV show called "the news" that is sweeping the nation.

  • ||

    This case should be thrown out on amusing movie titles alone.

  • ||

    To allow distribution of such a film to the general public would be a further violation of their rights.

    I could see damages as a preferable remedy to censorship.

  • ||

    Really, in what way could the distribution of the film violate anyone's rights? Unless people are tricked into watching the film it requires a voluntary act to watch it; a choice.

    No one can make the case that the mere existence of a piece of media (I hesitate to use the word "art") violates their rights.

  • ||

    I live in the DC area. There aren't enough people in the city shooting each other, stealing from each other (not counting Congress), raping women, bullying homeless people to keep the DA busy? I would think the DC DA would be up to his ass in real cases with real crimes to be bothered with some cheap porn movies. Here's a guy looking for higher office.

  • ||

    The criminal division that prosecutes
    street crime does not go after porn in California.

  • ||

    Tyranny is non-objective laws, randomly enforced for political gain. Don't let any of these tax feeders prosper, from Eric Holder on down.
    Let us direct our outrage at specific tyrants: US District Judge Richard Leon. US Attorney for DC Ronald C Machen Jr. The prosecution witness Dr. Chester W Schmidt Jr. from John Hopkins. You can only bring down a crooked institution one crook at a time.

    Let us identify the all the nameless DOJ accusers and be watchful of them from now on. Read Andrew Napolitano's account of Janet Reno and her handling of the Country Walk Babysitting Service for background. Read his book "Constitutional Chaos" we're still a young republic and worth saving.

    12 random DC people are going to be drafted for this Stalinistic Morality Play. This a complete fabrication of a case to pursue an agenda. There are no victims here seeking court redress.

  • ||

    You area distorting history like Stalin did. Reagan to Bush II conducted a war against porn and ran on that as part of their reason to elect them to office.

  • For evil to prosper.....||

    From law.com "Pamela Satterfield and Bonnie Hannan of the Criminal Division obscenity prosecution task force will try the case."

    PAMELA S SATTERFIELD
    7542 13TH ST NW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20012
    (202) 291-4865

    This Stalinist horror has been persecuting people for pictures she doesn't like for some time. Here's a DOJ link proudly announcing another of her cases from '08 http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/.....-1097.html

  • ||

    I guess Bush is included in the Stalinist horror as his justice dept brought the action.

  • ||

    for good men to do nothing.
    Sergei Bondarchuk's preface to War and Peace?
    Pamela S Satterfield and Bonnie Hannan - The only things worse than World-According-to-Garp "Ellen Jamesians" are those malefactors who pervert the courts mission into castrating people who manage to find some small enjoyments and satisfactions in this world.

    http://jameslogancourier.org/m.....Nation.jpg

    Friend of fatherless! Fountain of happiness! Lord of the swill-bucket! Oh, how my soul is on Fire when I gaze at thy Calm and commanding eye, Like the sun in the sky, Comrade Napoleon!
    Thou are the giver of All that thy creatures love, Full belly twice a day, clean straw to roll upon; Every beast big and small Sleeps at peace in his stall, Thou watchest over all,
    Comrade Napoleon! Had I a sucking-pig,
    Ere he had grown as big Even as a pint bottle or as a rolling-pin, He should have learned to be Faithful and true to thee, yes, his first squeak should be "Comrade Napoleon!"

  • ||

    Let us all recall that this action was taken by the BUSH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT...and this had a life of its own after the charges were filed. Funny that Reason has always supported BUSH II, BUSH I and Reagan....all opposed to adult materials.

  • ||

    If the stuff was shipped to Washington DC, Supreme Court justices have held that it is not a state. How then, can he be charged under an interstate commerce clause?

  • Suprashoesweb||

  • cbtkd476||

    Lord of the swill-bucket! Oh, how my soul is on Fire when I gaze at thy Calm and commanding eye, Like the sun in the sky, Comrade Napoleon!
    Thou are the giver of All that thy creatures love, dragon ball z dvd
    band of brothers dvdFull belly twice a day, clean straw to roll upon; Every beast big and small Sleeps at peace in his stall, Thou watchest over all,

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