Prosecutors attempting to convict a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate on rarely leveled obscenity charges would have to clear a number of constitutional hurdles to win a conviction, attorneys and legal scholars said.
Richland County prosecutors indicted Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alvin Greene last week on two obscenity-related charges, after Greene was accused of showing a pornographic image to a University of South Carolina student last November. Greene faces up to five years in prison on a felony charge and up to three years in prison on a misdemeanor charge. Both carry a maximum fine of $10,000.
State solicitors said they charge only a handful of people with the crime each year. The victim's mother has publicly pledged to pursue prosecution, which attorneys said made it more likely prosecutors pushed to indict Greene. The 32-year-old has become a national political celebrity since his surprise primary win June 8. He has refused calls to end his candidacy in light of his legal issues.
Prosecutors will have to convince a jury Greene's actions meet a complex three-part standard defining obscenity, established in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case, said Charleston School of Law professor John Simpkins:
The average person, applying community standards, would find the work as a whole appeals to prurient interests
The work is patently offensive
And the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Fail to prove one part of the standard, said Simpkins, a constitutional law instructor, and the entire case would fail.
"I don't think by any means this is a clear-cut case," Simpkins said. "That's not unusual in these cases."
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