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S.C. Won’t File Charges in Nude Image Probe

State’s attorney general said that pictures sent from state-owned computers do not meet state’s definition of legally obscene.
S.C. Won’t File Charges in Nude Image Probe
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Dec 22, 2007 8:00 AM PST    Text size: 
COLUMBIA, S.C. — State Attorney General Henry McMaster announced that his office will not file charges against two officials from the Department of Corrections who used state computers to view and send nude pictures.

McMaster said that while the pictures probably would be considered offensive by some people, they do not meet the state’s standard for what is considered legally obscene.

“If these are obscene then everything on the news stands and convenience stores around the state would equally have to be declared obscene,” McMaster said. “The materials were very amateur in their quality, but they do not rise to the level of obscenity under South Carolina law.”

Under state law, the definition of “obscene” is very similar to the Miller test for obscenity under federal law. As it is defined under the S.C. statute, material is deemed to be obscene only if an “average person applying contemporary community standards” would find that the material “depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct,” and that the “material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex … lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value and the material as used is not otherwise protected or privileged,” under the U.S. or S.C. constitutions.

McMaster’s investigation began in May, after he received a letter from state Sen. Mike Fair asking McMaster’s office to investigate allegations that pornography was being viewed and exchanged by DOC officials.

Investigators examined six computers, including two hard drives that had been completely erased. Technicians managed to recover the erased data, and discovered that most of the data had been mundane office documents, with the occasional nude image interspersed in the mix of files.

Only two DOC officials were found to have actually emailed images to other people within the department, according to McMasters. Some of those that received the images showed them to other people in the office, but McMaster said his office has heard no allegations that any individuals were forced to view the images, or that images were sent to people who did not want to see them.

DOC director John Ozmint said his department hoped to put “this unfortunate chapter in the past.”

“The attorney general’s decision upholds what we knew from the beginning — that this was a misuse of government property that deserved internal discipline, not criminal charges,” Ozmint said. “Long before this decision was rendered, the [DOC] took steps to discipline those involved.”

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