us: A Prosecution Tests the Definition of Obscenity

Sometime early next year, Karen Fletcher, a 56-year-old recluse living on disability payments, will go on trial in federal court here on obscenity charges for writings distributed on the Internet to about two dozen subscribers.In an era when pornography has exploded on the Web almost beyond measure, Ms. Fletcher is one of only a handful of people to have been singled out for prosecution on obscenity charges by the Bush administration. She faces six felony counts for operating a Web site called Red Rose, which featured detailed fictional accounts of the molesting, torture and sometimes gruesome murders of children under the age of 10, mostly girls.How Ms. Fletcher came to be selected for federal prosecution among the countless pornography purveyors is a vivid illustration of the fractured and uncertain state of the enforcement of obscenity law in the nation.

While pornography by itself is not illegal, it can be prosecuted as obscenity if it fits the definition laid out by the Supreme Court more than 30 years ago. Under that ruling, Miller v. California, a work may be deemed obscene if, taken as a whole, it lacks artistic, literary or scientific merit, depicts certain conduct in a patently offensive manner, and violates contemporary community standards.

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