Alabama Softens Obscenity Law

Gretchen Gallen
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – After coming under fire for having one of the toughest obscenity laws in the nation, an Alabama Supreme Court has amended the law and ruled that a person can only be convicted of obscenity once for possessing what is considered "obscene material."

The state's obscenity law, which contains a child pornography statute, went into effect in 1998 and criminalizes the distribution of material that is harmful to minors. It prohibits adult entertainment businesses from presenting nude dancing without covering the male or female genitals and female breasts, and it prevents adult businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of any church, place of worship, church bookstore, public park, public housing project, day care center, public or private school, college, recreation center, skating rink, video arcade, public swimming pool, private residence, or any other place frequented by minors.

The law also makes it unlawful to sell sex toys, or as the law dictates: any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.

When the law was passed in July 1998, it fell under immediate attack from the owners of several strip clubs, adult novelty shop owners, and individuals, each of whom filed federal lawsuits against the state.

In April of this year, state legislators had a chance to remove the ban on sex toys, but decided to vote against it, and several years ago, Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor filed obscenity charges against Barnes & Nobles for selling copies of art photography books that the state felt contained "obscene" material.

The Alabama Supreme Court's decision this week to lessen the penalty for obscenity in Alabama was based on a child pornography case against a public works officer named David Girard who was convicted on 10 counts of possessing obscene material on his computer.

The Supreme Court ruled in an 8-0 decision that a person can be convicted only once for possessing obscene material no matter how many pictures they had at the time of their arrest.

Based on the court's decision, nine of the 10 counts have been dismissed and Girard will only go to prison for one of the three-year jail terms he was sentenced to, according to the Associated Press.

Girard has originally charged with possessing "obscene" material that depicted boys under the age of 18 years.

Alabama Attorney General Pryor originally argued that Girard should be charged and sentenced based on each individual piece of obscene material, treating each as a separate obscenity crime, the AP reported.

Although the Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that Girard would be sentenced for "possessing obscene material" as the offense, not the volume of offensive materials in his possession.