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Louisiana Obscenity charges to stick

ST. MARTINVILLE – Obscenity charges against two adult video store owners in St. Martin Parish are moving forward after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The case involves two stores that have operated for years on the Breaux Bridge Highway – Le Video Store, owned by Emmette Jacob Jr., and The Video Place, owned by Edward Burleigh Jr.

Both owners were charged in 2004 after undercover officers bought videos at the stores that prosecutors argue crossed the line from legal adult pornography to illicit obscenity.

The prosecution had been on hold pending an appeal of the constitutionality of the state’s obscenity law.

But St. Martin Parish Assistant District Attorney Cedars said last week that he will ask a judge to set the case for trial after the U.S. Supreme Court denied to weigh in on the case.

“The statute has been held to be valid,” Cedars said.

The video store owners had argued that the state’s obscenity law is so broad and vague as to violate rights of free expression.

Reed Lee, one of their attorneys, said the appeal to the nation’s highest court was admittedly a “long shot” at such an early stage in the prosecution.

“They (Supreme Court justices) usually wait until there is a final judgment in a case,” Lee said.

The video stores’ attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case after the state Supreme Court and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by State Judge Charles Porter in favor of the state’s obscenity law.

Louisiana and most other states use the “community standards” test to determine when adult pornography, which is presumed legal, crosses into the realm of illicit obscenity.

The test, drawn from a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, defines obscenity as anything “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find appeals to a base sexual interest and has no political, artistic or scientific value.

The video stores’ attorneys have argued that the community standards test set out in Louisiana’s obscenity law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not specify what “community” defines the standards.

They contend that because of the law’s vagueness, owners of adult-oriented businesses are held to a unknowable and shifting standard.

Some states have defined the geographic boundary for “community” that defines the obscenity standards, but judge Porter said in a ruling last year that no state is required to set those boundaries.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case settles that issue for now, but Lee said additional constitutional questions remain to be resolved before trial.

Jacob and Burleigh face from six months to three years in jail if convicted on obscenity charges.

Their stores have remained open while the case is pending.

The state’s obscenity statute is rarely used, but recent history has favored prosecutors.

A Webster Parish adult video store closed in 2005 as part of a plea agreement the owner made to obscenity charges, and the owner of a Lincoln Parish adult video store stopped selling adult tapes in 2003 in a deal to avoid jail time after an obscenity conviction.

In Lafayette, the owners of the Bad Kitty agreed last year to not sell certain adult videos at their downtown adult novelty store to avoid prosecution on obscenity charges.

 

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