Judge's Voiding of $5-Million Pornography Fines Criticized

Associated Press

Michigan's tough new pornography law goes into effect today, but a court ruling that deletes a provision for fines of up to $5 million has destroyed its effectiveness against repeat offenders, its sponsor said.

U.S. District Judge Stewart Newblatt ruled Tuesday in Flint that a section of the law defining first-degree obscenity and setting fines for second offenders was unconstitutional because it was vague and would act as a prior restraint on free speech, his clerk, Suzanne Lank, said.

"We still have a valid law on the books," said state Sen. Alan Cropsey, who sponsored the measure. "The judge has just gutted out a certain key portion of it that would have gotten at the crux of it."

'All Out of Line'

The section in question provided for up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for first convictions of peddling obscenity. The prison sentences remained the same in subsequent convictions, but fines were $50,000 to $5 million.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which joined a suit by owners of adult bookstores, found the penalties "all out of line with any kind of rational legislating," said Howard Simon, the ACLU's Michigan executive director.

"I think the legislation was an invitation to return to the censorship days of 30 years ago," he said. "We're pleased that he issued the ruling."

Cropsey said that the remainder of the law was not challenged.

The bill adopted language from a Supreme Court decision to define obscenity and established a second-degree obscenity offense similar to the section thrown out by Newblatt. The maximum fine for second-degree obscenity is $5,000.

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