Obscenity Conviction for Adult-to-Adult E-mail About Sex With Children:

A Fourth Circuit panel just upheld the conviction, by a 2-1 vote.

There's more to the case, including actual child pornography, and obscene cartoons that depicted children (which are punishable as obscenity, albeit with a higher punishment because of the subject matter, and not as child pornography, since no actual children were shown). But the constitutional disagreement between the majority and the dissent focuses on the text in the e-mail. The text apparently wasn't an attempt to conspire to have sex with children, or an attempt to seduce someone who the sender wrongly thought was a child; the prosecution was simply based on the theory that the text was obscene, and therefore criminally punishable.

The Supreme Court precedent, I should add, is on the majority's side: Even receipt of text, and not just distribution of material or receipt or pictures, can be punished if the text is obscene — i.e., if

  1. "the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest [i.e., a 'shameful or morbid interest in sex,' as opposed to ''good, old fashioned, healthy' interest in sex'],"
  2. "the work ... describes, in a patently offensive way [under contemporary community standards], sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable [obscenity] law," and
  3. "the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
See generally Kaplan v. California, 413 U.S. 115 (1973). Query whether the precedent is right, either as a substantive matter or as a matter of whether the obscenity definition is too vague to be constitutionally permissible, whether as to pictures or as to text.

Thanks to Damon King for the pointer.