Tuesday, February 26, 2013

United States v. Williams case brief

United States v. Williams case brief summary
553 U.S. 285

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Defendant was charged with one count of pandering child pornography under 18 U.S.C.S. § 2252A(a)(3)(B) and one count of possessing child pornography under § 2252A(a)(5)(B). He pleaded guilty to both counts but reserved the right to challenge the constitutionality of the pandering conviction. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that § 2252A(a)(3)(B) was both overbroad and impermissibly vague. Certiorari was granted.

OVERVIEW: 18 U.S.C.S. § 2252A(a)(3) included a scienter requirement, specifically, "knowingly." The statute's string of operative verbs--"advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits"--was reasonably read to have a transactional connotation. That is to say, the statute penalized speech that accompanied or sought to induce a transfer of child pornography from one person to another. The phrase, "in a manner that reflects the belief," § 2252A(a)(3)(B), included both subjective and objective components.
-The phrase, "in a manner. that is intended to cause another to believe," § 2252A(a)(3)(B), contained only a subjective element. The definition of "sexually explicit conduct" was very similar to a definition of "sexual conduct" in a New York statute that had been upheld against an overbreadth challenge.

The Court held that offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography were categorically excluded from the First Amendment and that the Eleventh Circuit had erroneously concluded otherwise. The Court held that the Eleventh Circuit's contention that § 2252A(a)(3)(B) gave law enforcement officials virtually unfettered discretion had no merit; the statute was not vague.

The Court stated that "an offer to provide or request to receive virtual child pornography is not prohibited by the statute. A crime is committed only when the speaker believes or intends the listener to believe that the subject of the proposed transaction depicts real children. It is simply not true that this means 'a protected category of expression [will] inevitably be suppressed,' post, at 13. Simulated child pornography will be as available as ever."

OUTCOME: The judgment of the Eleventh Circuit was reversed. 7-2 Decision; 1 concurrence; 1 dissent.

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