United States v. Handley

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United States of America v. Christopher S. Handley was a court case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa involving obscenity charges stemming from the possession of erotic cartoons.

District Judge James E. Gritzner ruled that 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(b)(2) were constitutionally infirm because those subsections restrict protected speech and do not require the visual depictions be obscene. He also held that the determination of what constituted obscenity under 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(b)(1) was to be made by the trier of fact. Referring to previous U.S. Supreme Court cases on obscenity and child pornography, he held, "Free Speech Coalition made clear that banned material must meet either the Ferber or Miller standards. There is no dispute the images in this case do not involve real children, thus Ferber is inapplicable."[1]


In October 2008, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund became involved in a case defending 38-year-old Iowa comic collector named Christopher Handley, with Eric Chase of its United Defense Group providing his legal defense.[2] Chase argued, "there are no actual children. It was all very crude images from a comic book."[3] This was related to obscenity charges involving pornography depicting minors, being applied to a fictional comic book. On this, Chase said, "This prosecution has profound implications in limiting the First Amendment for art and artists, and comics in particular that are on the cutting edge of creativity. It misunderstands the nature of avant-garde art in its historical perspective and is a perversion of anti-obscenity laws."[4] Charles Brownstein of the CBLDF commented: "The government is prosecuting a private collector for the possession of art. In the past, CBLDF has had to defend the First Amendment rights of retailers and artists, but never before have we experienced the federal government attempting to strip a citizen of his freedom because he owned comic books."[5]


United States district court Judge James E. Gritzner[6] was petitioned to drop some of the charges, but instead ruled that two parts of the PROTECT Act criminalizing "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting" were unconstitutional. Handley still faces an obscenity charge.[7] The motion was initially heard on June 24, 2008,[8] but was not widely publicized prior to the Fund's involvement. CBLDF leader Neil Gaiman remarked on how this could apply to his work The Doll's House, saying, "if you bought that comic, you could be arrested for it? That's just deeply wrong. Nobody was hurt. The only thing that was hurt were ideas." He then initiated a perfume sales campaign to raise funds for Handley's legal defense.[9][10]


Handley was convicted in May 2009 as the result of entering a guilty plea bargain at the recommendation of Chase, under the belief that the jury chosen to judge him would not acquit him of the obscenity charges if they were shown the images in question.[11]

The bargain resulted in six months in jail or prison. He was facing 15 years and a $250,000 fine.[12][13] The deal also included three years' supervised release and five years' probation.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. v. Handley, 564 F.Supp.2d. 996 (S.D. Iowa 2 July 2008).
  2. ^ "CBLDF to Serve as Special Consultant in PROTECT Act Manga Case". AnimeNewsNetwork. October 9, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  3. ^ "Lawyer Indicates Manga in Iowa Obscenity Case are Yaoi". AnimeNewsNetwork. November 24, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  4. ^ Artefact. "American Faces 20 Years Over Loli Manga". Sankaku Complex. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  5. ^ "CBLDF in Manga Obscenity Case, Assisting Defense of Collector". ICV2. October 10, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  6. ^ Marc H. Greenberg (2014). "Obscenity law and the First Amendment". Comic art, creativity and the law. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 154. ISBN 9781781954935.
  7. ^ "Iowa Collector Charged for Allegedly Obscene Manga". AnimeNewsNetwork. October 10, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  8. ^ "Order, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, vs. CHRISTOPHER S. HANDLEY, defendant" (PDF). United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. July 2, 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-19.
  9. ^ Jennifer Vineyard (November 24, 2008). "Neil Gaiman On The 'Obscenity' Of Manga Collector Christopher Handley's Trial". Splash Page. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "Why defend freedom of icky speech?". Neil Gaiman. December 1, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  11. ^ Annalee Newitz (May 28, 2009). "Manga Collection Ruled 'Child Pornography' By US Court". Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  12. ^ "What Today Is..." Neil Gaiman. February 14, 2010. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  13. ^ David Kravets (February 12, 2010). "'Obscene' U.S. Manga Collector Jailed 6 Months". Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  14. ^ "Christopher Handley Sentenced to 6 Months for 'Obscene' Manga (Updated)". AnimeNewsNetwork. February 11, 2010. Retrieved August 19, 2015.

External links[edit]