Local Lawmakers Look to Increase Penalties for Obscenity

Michael Hayes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With little debate and scant opposition, House lawmakers passed HB 1569, a measure that would increase the maximum fine for obscenity to $250,000.

Under the current law, Arkansas imposes a maximum fine of $15,000 for obscenity. But Rep. Shirley Walters, who introduced the bill, said the current penalty doesn’t go far enough to deter those who seek to profit from the sale of obscene material.

“There are several places here in Arkansas where these businesses are owned by out-of-state corporations and a $15,000 fine would be just a slap on the wrist,” she said. “This would allow a judge or jury to access up to $250,000 for a felony obscenity charge.”

Adult entertainment attorney Larry Walters told XBIZ a $250,000 fine is beyond what most states and the federal system provide for, adding that it may prove to be unconstitutional.

"There's this idea that people in adult entertainment make so much money, that the fines need to be huge," Walters said. "That's not always the case. States pass these laws looking to catch the big fish, but often they ensare the little guy."

But Walters cautioned, larger adult entertainment companies should take note of the fact that at least one state is seeking to impose dramatically higher fines for obscenity.

The bill does not speak to jail time for those convicted of obscenity in the state.

Rep. Walters said the bill, which passed the House by a 88-2 vote, has the support of the Sebastian County prosecutor Gunner DeLay, as well as law enforcement officials from other parts of western Arkansas.

Three employees of the Clarksville X-Mart Adult Supercenter were recently arrested for obscenity after complaints from the local community, DeLay said. In testimony in support of the bill, DeLay said the store was owned and operated by a Florida-based chain.

“The problem is that right now, if we go after the corporation, we can only hit them with a fine of $15,000,” DeLay said. “Folks, for a corporation that's making millions and millions of dollars off of the sale of obscenity, that's not much of a penalty.”

DeLay added that he considers obscenity to be a crime against the community, not an individual.

Attorney Gary Edinger of Gainesville, Fla., who represents the store, said his client is well within its rights to sell adult content and that only juries applying contemporary community standards, not prosecutors, can determine if material is obscene.

“Materials are not obscene in this country until a jury says they are,” he said. “My understanding is the store stays well on the right side of the line.”

In the meantime, the bill goes to the state Senate for approval.

To read the full bill, click here.