Obscenity conviction in Fla. scares, pleases

October 04, 1990|By Fort lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel

Depending on who is asked, the conviction of a Florida record-store owner for selling an obscene record is either the death of the First Amendment, a victory for anti-pornography forces, or something in between.

"I found the verdict scary, and indicative of a new era, one that backslides considerably," said Robyn Blumner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida.

Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro, however, said the First Amendment "is alive and well. This was never a case of censorship, but rather one man flouting the law."

A Broward County Court jury ruled that Charles Freeman, black owner of E-C Records, was guilty of selling obscenity for peddling the album "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" by the rap group 2 Live Crew.

Freeman, 31, stalked out of the courtroom and said to reporters: ". . . It's unfair. The jury was all white. They don't know where E-C Records was. . . ."

The jurors -- all over age 30, all from middle- to upper-class backgrounds -- took about two hours to decide that the vulgarity-filled sexual bravado of 2 Live Crew violates the community standards of Broward County.

In doing so, jurors decided it met the legal standards of obscenity: It appealed to "morbid or shameful interest in sex," and it "lacked any serious artistic" value.

County Judge Paul L. Backman will sentence Freeman next month; the record store owner could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Freeman's trial was the first jury test of U.S. District Court Judge Jose Gonzalez's ruling that the group's lyrics were obscene.

The ruling set off reactions across America.

John Mitchell, a Washington attorney for a group that represents record-store owners, said the conviction probably won't have a direct effect on his members -- if only because most will play it safe.

In a statement issued through his Miami-based company, 2 Live Crew leader Luther Campbell said he wasn't surprised by the verdict. "The community standards in the black area and white area are completely different," he said.

Three members of the group, including leader Campbell, are scheduled to go on trial next week for a performance at a Hollywood, Fla., night club.

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