The case of Christopher Handley has ended not unexpectedly, with results that put commercial artists, manga collectors, and everyone with an internet connection in the cross-hairs of a potential witch hunt perpetrated at the discretion of the self appointed people's puritan protectionist police on the front lines of what they like to call “the culture war” but what most of us who live here in reality call “you’re too old and can’t handle things in the outside world now go back inside, you’re missing ‘The Factor.’”
The guilty plea in this case is very much the worst possible outcome for members of the public, much worse than if he had been found guilty by a jury. Oh sure, the sentence is reduced and he isn’t facing the same severity as he would have if he had been convicted which is a real possibility since from what I hear he had some stuff nasty enough to make the admins over at Encyclopedia Dramatica look like members of the Bristol Pailin abstinence movement. With an uppity District Attorney waving federal charges and threatening the worst if he has to show grandma on the jury those nasty pictures and how poor little Chris’s ass has no chance of coming out of this unscathed, to expect a real fight was probably too optimistic looking back. So he may have received the best legal advice for his own individual case, but in reality it was the worst decision that could have been made. Because a guilty verdict has something that goes with it which a guilty plea does not: a chance to appeal. Appellate courts are great arenas for this kind of thing to be sorted out when it comes to legal vaguery being taken too far, and are now something that Handley will not have access to unless he can prove he was unduly influenced into taking a plea. My entire education in legal matters comes from watching every season of Law & Order 5 times and reading Fark way too much, and even I can tell that this guilty plea legitimizes a law which has “unconstitutional” written all over it. In the past, obscenity legislation of this type was used to criminalize possession of novels, and would always depend on the interpreting the meaning of “obscene” which means different things to different people, and therefore has no place in legal regulations of any kind. I don’t know what leverage they had on this Handley guy, but his guilty plea is really going to screw the next poor sucker they decide to make an example of (I am thinking a police raid on a furry convention).
So now we have a person, being treated like a criminal engaging in a criminal act with a criminal instrument, only it’s not really that, and somewhere someone is abusing an actual child, not a drawing of one. I am sure the police originally thought that they were going to find actual child pornography that this guy had, and when they didn’t, they decided to go for it and punish this guy anyway because cops aren’t about to use up their time and miss out on the reward of putting someone in jail, you can’t expect them to really be capable of proper behavior in legal matters. The blame for this most recent erosion of constitutional rights has got to land 50/50 on the idiots who actually wrote it, and Handley himself for selling out on a very important duty to set a legal precedent. When what is legal or not comes down to a matter of opinion, even if that opinion is a popular one and generally accepted, it is still opinion (I’m not taking about what is legally considered “expert” opinion). Since assessing the age of a cartoon character is both subjective, and technically impossible it can not be the basis for enforcement of a law. How old is Bart Simpson? He was in 4th grade in 1987… so was I, yet I can buy beer and he can’t. You know why? Because he’s not real he’s an abstract concept, a fictional character. If I draw him getting shot, I won’t be booked for murder, and although the equivalent of this case’s imagery is unpleasant to think about, criminal proceedings for “abusing Bart Simpson” are just as ludicrous as a murder charge.
For further reading on some of the specifics of the case, Matt Thorn has compiled a linked list to not only some of the actual court documents in the case, but other opinions more informed than my own. Which you can find here.
Thanks to Sirkowski for not only pushing the boundaries of epic win in his delightfully offensive Miss Dynamite series, but also for clearly illustrating that when all that separates a sketch of regular internet jiggle, from part of a felony criminal enterprise is a word bubble, then there’s something wrong with the law.