In a troubling case, a Missouri man has been sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to possession of obscene images of children.
The images in question were found on his computer and including manga and anime images. It sounds like Bee possessed more images than just the anime ones, and pled guilty to the lesser charge as a plea bargain.
On Oct. 15, 2012, Bee pleaded guilty to possessing an obscene image of the sexual abuse of children. The pornographic cartoon, which depicted children engaging in sexual behavior, is categorized as “obscene” and therefore illegal. The original indictment, which charged Bee with receiving child pornography, was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
While Bee accepted these charges as part of a plea bargain which dropped charges for other pornographic images he possessed—and an interest in children having sex is disgusting—merely possessing images of the same occupy a grey area of thinking about whether an actual crime has been committed. The CBLDF was not drawn into Bee’s case, but did issue a statement:
CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein notes,”We don’t yet have enough information to determine what factors led to Mr. Bee’s decision to plead guilty to obscenity charges. I would say, however, that the government’s description of the comics on his computer could easily describe a variety of comics that possess artistic and literary merit, including Robert Crumb’s “Joe Blow,” a story I frequently lecture about because it was the subject of a badly reasoned obscenity conviction in the 1970 case People v. Kirkpatrick. I’m not at all persuaded that the comics Mr. Bee had on his computer weren’t legitimate speech.”
Brownstein adds, “The main lesson this sad case should send to the community is that your very first call in any First Amendment emergency should be to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (800-99-CBLDF). We retain an expert legal team who are able to quickly manage cases against comics, and often get them dropped before they go to court. Earlier this year we were successful in ending an investigation involving a comics reader in Idaho who was also turned into police by an intimate partner. That partner alleged that the comics this reader owned were child pornography and obscene. They weren’t. Our powerful legal team asserted that truth and made the case go away before it went to court. The earlier we receive the call for help, the better equipped we are to make a positive difference in the outcome.”
There’s a fuller, must-read discussion of the case up at Reason which discusses the controversy over classifying possession of these kinds of images as obscene and illegal:
Bee won’t be raising a First Amendment challenge, however, because he gave up that right in exchange for dismissal of the child pornography charge, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. The charge to which he pled guilty, by contrast, carries an indeterminate sentence of up to 10 years, and in the end the plea deal shaved at least two years off his prison term. Last year I described a similar case in which an Ohio man got 15 months rather than five years by pleading guilty to an obscenity charge based on Simpsons porn rather than face a charge of receiving actual child pornography based on other images.
Although no one likes child molesters and child pornography, simple possession of drawn images seems to be a slippery slope. We’re also reminded of the Ryan Matheson case, where an American man was almost thrown into jail in Canada for possessing the above incredibly innocuous image.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.