Vice Squad
Monday, January 28, 2008
Obscenity in Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, Virginia, was fortunate enough not to record a single homicide in 2007. But it isn't exactly crime-free: there was nearly an assault per day, and more than one-and-a-half larcenies on a daily basis. So you would think local prosecutors would be keeping busy. Nonetheless, a video store clerk was charged last week with various obscenity counts, accused of selling legally-obscene material. Oh the humanity.

The new charges come in the wake of an earlier indictment of the man who owns the store from which the videos allegedly were sold. Oddly, six of the counts filed against the poor clerk are felonies. What is the explanation? A lawyer for the owner speculates (on, not safe for work) that the prosecutors are trying to use the law that makes repeat offenses a felony. So if they get a misdemeanor conviction for selling one obscene DVD, they will claim that sales of others are repeat offenses, and hence felonies, even though the sales occurred before the prior conviction.

Actually, maybe the local prosecutors in Staunton are busy. The idea to indict the clerk seems to have come from the federal Department of Justice, which is helping out with the Staunton prosecution. I had sort of been hoping that our new Attorney General wouldn't want to make obscenity a huge priority, if for no other reason than to distinguish himself from his two immediate predecessors.

Staunton is the home of the world's only re-creation of the Blackfriar's Theatre, the indoor space north of the Thames that Shakespeare's acting company took over in 1608. Uh oh, aren't some of those Shakespeare plays obscene?

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