Sunday, February 7, 2010

Words “Matter”

On Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned the conviction of man who enticed a 13 year-old girl to meet with him so he “would teach [her] everything’’ after a series of sexually explicit emails.  The girl turned out to be a policewoman, and the man was charged and convicted with intent to disseminate harmful materials to minors, which is a crime in Massachusetts under MGL ch.272, CHAPTER 272. CRIMES AGAINST CHASTITY, MORALITY, DECENCY AND GOOD ORDER.

Section 28 of that law, Matter harmful to minors, dissemination; possession; defenses, specifically states:

Whoever disseminates to a minor any matter harmful to minors, as defined in section thirty-one, knowing it to be harmful to minors, or has in his possession any such matter with the intent to disseminate the same to minors, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years, or by a fine of not less than one thousand nor more than ten thousand dollars for the first offense, not less than five thousand nor more than twenty thousand dollars for the second offense, or not less than ten thousand nor more than thirty thousand dollars for the third and subsequent offenses, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Section 31 of the law, Definitions, helps clarify that confusing term, “Matter”.

“Matter”, any handwritten or printed material, visual representation, live performance or sound recording including but not limited to, books, magazines, motion picture films, pamphlets, phonographic records, pictures, photographs, figures, statues, plays, dances.

That’s right, folks. Promoting dirty dancing is against the law in the fine state of Massachusetts.  But a 41 year-old can entice 13 year-old girls into sexual encounters via text messages because those messages were not “handwritten or printed.”  Yes. That’s why the court overturned his conviction.

It is not my intent here to rail against the questionable objectivity of this law:  children should be protected from predators, sexual or otherwise.  But given that there is a law on the books that relates to the dissemination of lewd materials as harmful to children, shouldn’t the court be able to interpret it based on principle?  Are not the ideas represented by the words themselves the harmful part, rather than the method of dissemination?

Personally, I’m waiting for the test case on words that matter in Section 14, Adultery, God help me, Section 36, Blashphemy, or God help us all, Section 18, Fornication - all of which are still codified offenses within this chapter of the Massachusetts General Law.

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