The Simpsons, Skins, and Child Porn

This week Steven Kutzner, a former Idaho middle school teacher who pleaded guilty in October to "possessing obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children," was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, followed by three years of post-release supervision. The Kutzner case attracted attention because the children in those visual representations were cartoon characters, including Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson. Federal investigators who examined his computer said they also found "more than 500 pornographic image files" featuring young females who appeared to be teenagers but could not determine whether any of them were under 18. According to U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson's sentencing memo (PDF), "Kutzner stipulated that the Court could consider the fact that he had received and possessed  images of real children as relevant conduct for purposes of sentencing." The memo adds:

The evidence shows that, besides the obscene material that he pled guilty to possessing, Kutzner had been downloading, receiving and viewing sexually explicit images of actual children for eight years.  He avoided being charged with a child pornography offense because he used wiping programs to delete the images from his computer. So, while Kutzner pled guilty to possessing obscene fictional representations of the sexual abuse of children, he also has a long history of viewing sexually explicit images of real children.

Like possession of actual child pornography, the offense to which Kutzner pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and no mandatory minimum. But since the Supreme Court has said the First Amendment bars the government from criminalizing mere possession of obscene material (as opposed to mere possession of child pornography, which the Court says can be banned), Kutzner could have challenged the charge on constitutional grounds. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Peters says Kutzner took the deal to avoid a charge of receiving "obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children," which, like receiving child pornography, carries a five-year mandatory minimum. 

In related news, The New York Times reports that MTV is hurriedly editing scenes from its new teen drama Skins (the American version of a British series) to avoid criminal charges. Executives suddenly realized that sexy images of the show's stars, most of whom are under 18, might be construed as child pornography. If so, the resulting distribution charge would carry a five-year mandatory minimum and a maximum sentence of 20 years. NYU law professor Amy Adler, a First Amendment specialist, tells the Times, "There are times when I look at mainstream culture and think it is skirting up against the edge of child pornography law." The Parents Television Council agrees.

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  • ||

    "We know you're guilty of something, even if we can't prove it; we're just going to go ahead and throw the book at you."

  • ||

    Prosecution 101

  • Prosecution 101||

    "Probation is for the innocent"

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, interfering with the duties of a cop, conspiracy to commit such and such, mail fraud...

  • JD||

    NYU law professor Amy Adler, a First Amendment specialist, tells the Times, "There are times when I look at mainstream culture and think it is skirting up against the edge of child pornography law."

    I'm going to bet she thinks that is because mainstream culture goes too far, rather because she thinks child pornography law goes too far.

  • JD the elder||

    My thought as well - I'm not sure why she would expect there to be a broad expanse of unexplored territory between "mainstream" and "legally forbidden", given the history of publishing, the First Amendment, and obscenity and pornography prosecutions (all of which you'd expect a law professor who's a "First Amendment specialist" to be somewhat familiar with).

    Also, you stole my handle, you bastard. But I was here first.

  • ||

    He avoided being charged with a child pornography offense because he used wiping programs to delete the images from his computer. So, while Kutzner pled guilty to possessing obscene fictional representations of the sexual abuse of children, he also has a long history of viewing sexually explicit images of real children

    Uhh...if you couldn't find any, how do you know this?!?

  • Dan||

    He was probably one of those dumb criminals who told the cops everything to prove how smart they were.

    My ex-wife would totally do something like this.

  • Amakudari||

    Eh, I'm assuming when the van pulls up outside your door, they already know you've been downloading child porn. Having an actual copy would help their case tremendously, of course, but it's probably more like cops having a video of someone robbing a store but none of the actual stolen items.

  • Abdul||

    From other reports I read they know two ways:

    1) they had his IP address and records of his computer downloading child porn, which gave the the probable cause to arrest.

    2) he confessed.

  • ||

    Wouldn't MTV already be guilty of producing and possessing child pornography, if their TV show's scenes run afoul of the law?

    Clearly, the law is wrong, on many levels, for many reasons. But the above question intrigues me.

  • Dan||

    But MTV has a lot of money...

  • ||

    They already had a show like this called Undressed. Maybe the issue then was that it didn't star under 18-year olds

  • Robert||

    Hard to believe that as mad as Britain has gotten about pedophilia lately, that the American version of a show that aired in Britain would be considered borderline.

  • ||

    I think Cartman exposed himself on 'South Park' - so wouldn't I be the victim then?

  • sevo||

    Prediction: Some bozo will try to get a department store newspaper ad listed as kiddie porn.

  • Diamond||

    This is an overreaction. There's nothing illegal under federal child porn law (18 U.S.C. 2256) about a boy running away from the camera naked. That's not lascivious. If only his buttocks were showing, that wouldn't even fit the minimum criteria for sentencing in *any* federal child porn case involving mere nudity without sexual activity, which is that the pubic area shows.

    On the other hand, Angelina Jolie's sex scene in her early movie Cyborg 2 may violate federal law, but nobody has ever been arrested for making or selling it. These facts are gathered at http://artcontroversies.wordpr.....ude-scene/

  • Jayne Cobb||

    I could stand to hear a little more...

  • Dave||

    On the other hand, defendants have been convicted of possession of child pornography for possessing videos of fully-clothed teenagers. One famous case involved a defendant named Knox in Pennsylvania.

    The seller of that video was not charged - whether it is child porn or not depends largely on the thoughts of the person possessing the material.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The HBO series Rome has a scene in which Julius Caesar (portrayed by Ciaran Hinds), holds up his(hah!) infant son, Caesarion before his troops. The viewers are given a full frontal of shot of tiny, baby pecker and buttocks for at least 20 seconds.

    So is the BBC in the kiddie pr0n business?

  • Jerry||

    I guess it was not erotic enough.

  • Paul||

  • Sudden||

    Although I think these laws have gone a bit far, I must admit that anything that could get an MTV executive imprisoned for a five year minimum sentance at least has its positives.

  • ||

    I know child pornography when I see it!

  • oncogenesis||

    The Parents Television Council agrees.

    ... to eat a bag of (adult) dicks.

  • Whiskey Muscles||

    In the early part of The Simpsons Movie there is a brief shot of Bart's wiener. I suppose owning the DVD puts us at risk for a child porn charge.

  • Two Iranian Clerics||

    Abdul: Check this out. Man is going to prison for having nude drawings of Lisa and Bart on his hard drive.
    Sam: What? Just drawings?
    Abdul: That's right. Artist depictions of the two nude and having sex.
    Sam: Those Americans have a funny idea of what is sacred and profane.
    Abdul: Americans. Insane and ruthless.

  • ||

    The PTC link only leads to their reaction to the "Glee" photo shoot from a few months back. Although they claimed the pictures were borderline pedophilia (even though the actors in the pictures were in their twenties), I was wondering if you had a different PTC article in mind in regards to their reaction to this "Skins" show being "borderline pedophilia"?

  • robc||

    I bring this up again only because its relevant and no one has ever answered.

    How does Amazon et al continue to sell Blame it on Rio?

    Heck, gis the movie (with safe surf off, obviously) and their is full frontal nudity of a 17 year old within the first two lines.

  • Zeb||

    Or American Beauty, or lots of other movies with 17 yo tits in them. Apparently if their parents sign a permission slip it is OK.

  • robc||

    Did MTV fail to get permission slips? They arent going to be showing any actual nudity (Im assuming) so how can they possibly be worried while movies arent.

    The fact is, if I took similar pictures of the 17 year old down the street (there isnt one, but hypothetically), parental permission wouldnt matter, I would be jailed.

    Im not even saying that is wrong, I just dont understand the standard.

  • ||

    Or that movie with Booke Shields, Pretty Baby, where she is ?12? year old prostitute?
    Or how about Blue Lagoon?
    Funny how nobody ever tries to presecute big moneyed mainstream Hollywood, which is odd because all of our prosecutors our noble, selfless, altruistic public servants completely unconcerned with political advancement.
    It just sooooo strange...

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    The child pornography laws - particularly the federal ones - are substantially unjust, and a law against possessing drawings of Lisa Simpson blowing Supernintendo Chalmers is insane. But if the feds didn't have him on the cartoon porn charge, they would have had him on more serious child pornography charges. He doesn't really make a good poster boy for the stupidity of the cartoon porn law.

    This reminds me of the statistics about the number of people in prison for drug possession. I'm sure that many people sentenced to prison for possession of marijuana were actually guilty of other more serious crimes [everything is a more serious crime than marijuana possession --Ed.], but pled guilty to the marijuana charge.

  • ||

    " Lisa Simpson blowing Supernintendo Chalmers is insane..."
    I agree. But you must agree if she was having sex with groundskeeper willie, with the detestible reference of "willie," that that would be pretty creepy.
    Also, please do not think about Moe and Barney 69ing, because that is just wrong.
    I said don't think about it...

  • ||

    What about Blue Lagoon? It was a body double for a 13 (?) year old Brook Shield but you were to believe it was her, nude. How is that not Child Porn? It was a depiction of a nude child.

  • Geotpf||

    My favorite example is Titanic. Kate Wislet's character was 17 and was seen partially nude. Under this law, the second highest grossing movie of all time is technically kiddie porn.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Partially nude AND got railed out in a Model T!

    Apparently it's not child porn as long as Celine Dion screeches for four minutes while you're watching it.

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