The internet has complicated the old “community standards” concept in obscenity cases, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In a story about an upcoming trial, the paper notes that the company under indictment for selling obscenity is in California, the undercover agent who ordered the product is in Pittsburgh, and the material was carried on a computer network across the country. What community standards should be used to determine if a crime was committed? That was a question faced recently by a federal court judge in the case of United States vs. Extreme Associates, a company based in North Hollywood that makes graphic pornography featuring scenes of rape, torture, murder and defecation.
The trial begins March 16 in federal court, more than five years after owners Robert Zicari, and his wife, Janet Romano, were indictd for transporting obscene materials across state lines. Jurors will be asked to answer three questions in their deliberations: Are the materials patently offensive? Do they appeal only to prurient interests? Do they have any serious artistic, literary, social or political value? The first two questions must be answered through the lens of “contemporary community standards.” When the U.S. Supreme Court established current obscenity law in its 1973 decision in Miller vs. California, it did not go about defining those standards. Since then, with the pervasiveness of cable television and the advent of the Internet, some experts argue that contemporary community standards have very likely changed, and the law should reflect that. The Extreme Associates trial could be the catalyst, experts say.