Allegedly obscene language cannot be prosecuted with a dictionary

Jun 12, 2012 Allegedly obscene language cannot be prosecuted with a dictionary

Thanks to Virginia’s Supreme Court for reversing a conviction for harassment by obscenity, where Virginia’s intermediate appellate court upheld the conviction by “substituting a dictionary definition [of obscenity] for that provided by the General Assembly.”Barson v. Va., ___  Va. ___ (June 8, 2012).

Here, embarrassed and angry over his belief that his estranged wife had posted Craigslist advertisements for sex, Barson let loose a barrage of emails to his wife, friends and family members. His emails accused her of:

“[S]ex with anonymous strangers” on Craigslist, of having a “new hobby of soliciting sex on CL,” of having “risky gutter sex,” of “vacuum[ing] his baby to death” and of being a “coke whore baby killing prostitute.” He also accused her of engaging in sexual acts with identified men.


None of that, though, was obscene under Virginia’s statutory definition nor under the United States Supreme Court’s obscenity definition in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), thus necessitating the reversal of Barson’s conviction. Barson

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