July 2, 2008 By Wallin & Klarich

In a recent opinion, the United States Supreme Court upheld the validity of a federal child pornography statute.

United States v. Williams.

In Williams, the Defendant, Williams, using a sexually explicit screen name, signed in to a public Internet chat room. A Secret Service agent had also signed in to the chat room under the moniker “Lisa n Miami.” The agent noticed that Williams had posted a message that read: “Dad of toddler has ‘good’ pics of her an [sic] me for swap of your toddler pics, or live cam.” The agent struck up a conversation with Williams, leading to an electronic exchange of non-pornographic pictures of children. (The agent’s picture was in fact a doctored photograph of an adult.) Soon thereafter, Williams messaged that he had photographs of men molesting his 4-year-old daughter. Suspicious that “Lisa n Miami” was a law-enforcement agent, before proceeding further Williams demanded that the agent produce additional pictures. When the agent failed to do so, Williams posted the following public message in the chat room: “HERE ROOM; I CAN PUT UPLINK CUZ IM FOR REAL–SHE CANT.” Appended to this declaration was a hyperlink that, when clicked, led to seven pictures of actual children, aged approximately five to fifteen years, engaging in sexually explicit conduct and displaying their genitals. The Secret Service then obtained a search warrant for Williams’ home, , and, when the search warrant was executed, agents seized two hard drives containing at least twenty-two images of real children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, some of it sadomasochistic.

At the trial court level, Williams was charged with one count of “pandering” child pornography, and one count of possession of child pornography.

Williams plead guilty to both counts and received a sentence of sixty months in prison. Williams’ guilty pleas were conditionally entered, the condition being that he would be able to challenge the constitutionality of the pandering conviction. The trial court judge found that the conviction was constitutional, but the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the “pandering” conviction, finding that the “pandering” statute was both overbroad and vague in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The government appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to review the case.

The statute in issue provides:

Any person who– ”(a)

knowingly– ”

(3)advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits through the ”(B) mails, or in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains– an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit

“(i) conduct; or a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit ”(ii) conduct, “shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).” §2252A(a)(3)(B) (2000 ed., Supp. V).

Section 2256(2)(A) defines “sexually explicit conduct” as
“actual or simulated– sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital,

“(i) anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;

bestiality; ”(ii)

masturbation; ”(iii)

sadistic or masochistic abuse; or ”(iv)

lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any ”(v) person.”

The Court first took up the issue of whether the statute in issue was overbroad. Under the “overbreadth” doctrine, a statute invalid if it prohibits a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech. The doctrine seeks to strike a balance between two competing interests. On the one hand, the threat of enforcement of an overbroad law deters people from engaging in constitutionally protected speech, inhibiting the free exchange of ideas. On the other hand, invalidating a law that in some of its applications is perfectly constitutional–particularly a law directed at conduct so antisocial that it has been made criminal–has obvious harmful effects. In order to maintain an appropriate balance, the Court has vigorously enforced the requirement that a statute’s overbreadth be substantial, not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep.

One concern here was that, while the law prohibits requests to obtain, and offers to provide, child pornography, there is no requirement that there be any actual child pornography. The Court, though, noted that the law, as drafted, prohibited those classes of items that the Court had previously ruled could be constitutionally proscribed, to wit: obscene material depicting actual or virtual children engaging in sexual conduct; and any other material depicting actual children engaging in sexually explicit acts. The Court noted that the First Amendment does not protect offers to engage in illegal transactions, and, accordingly, the Court found that the statute in issue here does not prohibit a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech activity.

As to Williams’ challenge to the statute on the ground that the statute is unconstitutionally vague, the Court began by noting that a statute is impermissibly vague where it fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence notice of what is prohibited, or is so devoid of a legal standard that it permits or encourages discriminatory enforcement. The Court held that what renders a statute vague is not the possibility that it will sometimes be difficult to determine whether the incriminating fact it establishes has been proved; but rather the indeterminacy of what that fact is. The Court found that the statute in issue here is not vague, and that, while there may be some difficult cases, courts and juries pass everyday on issues such as those that may be presented by the instant statute, and, accordingly, the Court found that the statute was not impermissibly vague.

Wallin and Klarich has been in the business of helping people with their criminal matters in their time of need for over 30 years and we would like to help you with yours! If you have a question regarding any other criminal matter, call Wallin and Klarich today. We are always available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit us at www.wklaw.com or call us at 1-888-749-0034.

Contact Us
  •   17592 Irvine Blvd,
      Tustin, CA 92780
  •   (714) 730-5300
  •   (888) 280-6839
SCHEDULE YOUR free consultation

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, this is the time to contact us.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Copyright © 2024 Wallin & Klarich - All rights reserved

California Criminal Defense Lawyer Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor should it be considered the formation of a lawyer or attorney-client relationship. Any case results presented on the site are based upon the facts of a particular case and do not represent a promise or guarantee. The contents of this website may contain legal advertising. If you would like to find out more information about your particular legal matter, contact our office for a free telephonic consultation. This web site is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the state of California.