Civil Liberties

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