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United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc.

513 U.S. 64 (1994)

tl;dr: A child pornography statute that was ambiguous as to which elements required knowledge was interpreted by the Supreme Court to require mens rea for each element.

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The case of United States v. X-CITEMENT VIDEO, INC., et al. involved the violation of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977, which prohibits the interstate transportation, shipping, receipt, distribution, or reproduction of visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Supreme Court concluded that the Act requires the defendant to know that one of the performers was a minor. The defendant, Rubin Gottesman, was indicted for violating the child pornography statute by selling videotapes featuring Traci Lords before her 18th birthday to an undercover police officer. Evidence suggested that Gottesman knew that Lords was underage when she made the films. Gottesman argued that the Act was unconstitutional because it lacked a necessary scienter requirement and was unconstitutional as applied because the tapes at issue were not child pornography. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court for reconsideration, but the District Court refused to set aside the conviction. Justice Stevens filed a concurring opinion, while Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Thomas. However, the lower court erred in reversing the conviction of the defendants. The Supreme Court found that the statute did not require knowledge of the age of the performer and that further analysis is required to determine the proper interpretation of the statute.

The interpretation of "knowingly" in §2252 that only modifies relevant verbs would lead to absurd results and is unlikely what Congress intended. The statute requires a mens rea, and the age of the performers is an elemental fact. The legislative history of the child pornography statute is unclear as to whether "knowingly" in the statute modifies the elements of subsections (1)(A) and (2)(A) or merely the verbs in subsections (1) and (2). However, Congress was aware of the need for a mens rea requirement when dealing with child pornography in 1977. The desire of Congress for a scienter requirement with respect to the age of minority is unclear from the Committee Reports and legislative debate.

The word "knowingly" should be removed from section 2251, but it is appropriate to use it in subsection 2252(a)(1) to clarify that the bill does not apply to innocent transporters. The term "knowingly" in §2252 applies to both the sexually explicit nature of the material and the age of the performers to avoid constitutional concerns. The issue of the indictment's scienter requirement on the age of minority is not decided. Justice Stevens argues that the word "knowingly" in 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(1) modifies each element of the offense, and therefore, scienter is required for each fact that must be proved. Justice Scalia dissents, stating that adding a scienter requirement to a statutory offense that contains no such requirement is unreasonable. The statute is unconstitutional because it imposes criminal liability on those not knowingly dealing in pornography, violating protected First Amendment activities. The dissenting judge disagrees with the Court's decision and respectfully dissents.

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Facts & Holding

Facts:The defendant, the owner of X-Citement videos, was charged under...

Holding:The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, holding that the word...

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United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc.

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