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February 15, 2010

Six-month sentence for importing the wrong kind of comic books from Japan

Thanks to this post at How Appealing, I saw this interesting item on a Wired.com blog, which is titled "'Obscene' U.S. Manga Collector Jailed 6 Months."  Here are the particulars:

A U.S. comic book collector is being sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to importing and possessing Japanese manga books depicting illustrations of child sex and bestiality. Christopher Handley was sentenced in Iowa on Thursday, almost a year after pleading guilty to charges of possessing “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.”

The 40-year-old was charged under the 2003 Protect Act, which outlaws cartoons, drawings, sculptures or paintings depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and which lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” 

Handley was the nation’s first to be convicted under that law for possessing cartoon art, without any evidence that he also collected or viewed genuine child pornography.  Without a plea deal with federal authorities, he faced a maximum 15-year sentence.

Comic fans were outraged, saying jailing someone over manga does not protect children from sexual abuse. “I’d say the anime community’s reaction to this, since day one, has been almost exclusively one of support for Handley and disgust with the U.S. courts and legal system,” Christopher MacDonald, editor of Anime News Network, said in an e-mail....

The case began in 2006, when customs officials intercepted and opened a package from Japan addressed to Handley.  Seven books of manga inside contained cartoon drawings of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts and bestiality.

Additional information about this prosecution and sentencing can be found in this report from the Anime News Network, which is headlined "Christopher Handley Sentenced to 6 Months for 'Obscene' Manga."

Because I am not a First Amendment guru, I have no strong sense of whether Christopher Handley's prosecution and conviction for importing the wrong kind of comic books from Japan should be considered constitutionally problematic.  But, as a sentencing guru, I do have a strong sense that the threat of a much longer (guideline recommended?) sentence after any trial likely prompted Handley to plead guilty and to apparently forego whatever constitutional defenses he might have had available.

February 15, 2010 at 10:02 AM | Permalink


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Prior plea deals should not be held against a defendant, because they are contracts under duress or more accurately legally, out of necessity.

Such forced contracts should not preclude appeals, should not be allowed to disqualify people from privileges requiring a clean record. For example, a plea deal should not be considered an admission of guilt for the purpose of a future state professional license, or to work in child care or to vote.

The lawyer thug is holding a gun to the defendant's temple and saying, sign in ink or in brains.

This subsequent negation of any guilty plea by plea bargaining serves accuracy. It is legally justified by the procedural due process right to a fair hearing. Threats to destroy the life and assets of the innocent defendant violate that right.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 15, 2010 10:37:51 AM

Do you hear the Citizens United supports crying out about the First Amendment being shredded? No? Neither do I.

Posted by: . | Feb 15, 2010 11:13:01 AM

Question: what is the justification the Protect Act?

I thought the justification for the law against possessing child pornography was that it created a market for images and videos where a child was victimized. How could that possibly apply to a cartoon image, where there is no real victim?

The Supreme Court has already held that Congress could not ban "virtual" child pornography because it did not involve the actual victimization of a minor. I don't see why the precedent doesn't apply here as well.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 15, 2010 11:45:37 AM

I'm beginning to wonder whether possession of such movies as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Animal House, and anything with Brooke Shields in it in the '70's might now open someone up to prosecution. Not under this law, but under a strict reading of other anti-child pornography laws.

Posted by: Talitha | Feb 15, 2010 11:45:58 AM

Nabokov - Lolita - Can this be far behind.

Posted by: beth | Feb 15, 2010 3:08:11 PM

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 15, 2010 11:45:37 AM

This falls under the more general obscenity heading. Its only relation to CP is that both depict minors.

More interesting, I think, is the lack of social, political artistic qualities test, I've always wondered if that was meant to be a legal or factual determination. Is the judge supposed to reject the plea if the material does in fact have such merit?

If you were to put me on a jury there would be almost nothing you could put in front of me that I would fail to find serious value in one of those categories.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 15, 2010 6:52:07 PM

i think the judge and DA are criminals. The u.s supreme court has ruled at least twice that these illegal laws that make this kind of think illegal is in fact ILLEGAL itself.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Feb 16, 2010 3:31:26 AM

Obviously the judge and DA are lawless. However, their kind have dealt themselves absolute immunity from any tort liability. There is no legal recourse. If torts is a substitute for violence, then legal immunity justifies self-help.

The plea deal will also falsely be used as evidence of guilt. It is evidence only of duress, and the contract represented by the plea deal should be constructively voidable in any future litigation or legal action, such as licensing, voting, or getting a job.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 16, 2010 3:58:24 AM

THE THOUGHT POLICE (with apologies to Rick Nielsen)

The thought police, they live to enforce the Protect Act.
The thought police, they come to me in my bed.
The thought police, they're coming to arrest me, oh no.

You know that comic books are cheap, and those rumors ain't nice.
And when I fall asleep I don't think I'll survive the night, the night.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside the government.

The thought police, they live enforce the Protect Act.
(Live inside of my head.)
The thought police, they come to me in my bed.
(Come to me in my bed.)
The thought police, they're coming to arrest me, oh no.

Well, I can't tell lies, 'cause they're listening to me.
And when I fall asleep, bet they're spying on me tonight, tonight.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside the government.

I try to sleep, they're wide awake, they won't let me alone.
They don't get paid or take vacations, or let me alone.
They spy on me, I try to hide, they won't let me alone.
They persecute me, they're the judge and jury all in one.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside the government.

The thought police police police
The thought police,police police
The thought police,police police

Posted by: k | Feb 16, 2010 9:46:08 AM

I think Doug nails it. The offender had at best a 50 percent shot (probably a bit less) of getting his conviction tossed out on First Amendment grounds. But to take that shot, he needed to go to trial, get convicted, and be sentenced to potentially 15 years in prison.

Whatever one may think about these comics, it is hard to see that the expense of prosecuting this guy does not strike me as a good use of taxpayer money.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Feb 16, 2010 1:36:27 PM

The plea from the defendant with the advice of his attorney is understandable, if not very ballsy. One suspect that people who collect comics for a hobby are pretty risk averse. One wonders if a plea that would have retained the right to an appeal limited to a constitutionality challenge would have been possible (or whether it is good policy that such a limited appeal right is even be waivable).

The judge probably had only modest discretion in the face of a guilty plea.

The really culpable party, in my view, in this case, is the U.S. District Attorney who commited a gross abuse of discretion in bringing this case and was clearly twisted or misinformed about the underlying facts in doing so.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Feb 16, 2010 1:43:54 PM

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