Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Defending Against Dissemination of Obscene Material Charges

The Plymouth district attorney’s office revealed that a Bridgewater State University professor was recently indicted on charges of rape and other sex crimes after several female students reported assault. The other offenses for which the professor was indicted include indecent assault and battery on an individual over the age of 14, engaging in sexual conduct for a fee, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, and three counts of disseminating obscene material. 

As previously discussed on this blog, Bridgewater State University police began investigating the incident after a female student claimed that the professor sent her inappropriate pictures in October. At the time of the previous post, the professor had been charged with rape, sex trafficking, and criminal harassment. The professor is scheduled to be arraigned in Brockton Superior Court on February 25, 2021.  

While this case is complex, it introduces one way in which dissemination of obscene material charges can arise in Massachusetts. The following reviews some critical details that everyone should understand about the charge.

What it Means to Disseminate Obscene Material

One of the best ways to understand what constitutes a charge of dissemination of obscene material is to understand what elements of the offense must be proven by the prosecution. To establish the offense for a conviction, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  • The matter is obscene

  • The party accused of the offense either disseminated the matter or possessed the matter with the intent to disseminate it

  • The party accused of the offense knew of the material’s obscene nature 

Penalties Associated With a Charge of Dissemination of Obscene Material

If a person is convicted of the dissemination of obscene material in Massachusetts, that individual faces several strict penalties. General Laws Chapter 272, Section 29 penalizes the crime with imprisonment of up to two and a half years in a house of corrections or a maximum of five years in state prison. Additionally, the legislature has mandated that prosecution for a charge of dissemination of obscene material is prohibited from being continued without a finding.  

What is Considered Obscene?

The crime of dissemination of obscene material applies to a variety of printed and visual material. Most often, the charge is initiated against books, films, magazines, and photographs. To be considered obscene, material must be all of the following requirements:

  • The material must appeal to the prurient interest of an average citizen of the county in which the offense occurred. Prurient interest refers to either a morbid or shameful interest in nudity, excretion, sex, or sexual matters that is repugnant to moral standards. As a result, erotic or sexual materials are not always obscene. 

  • The material must either describe or show sexual conduct in a way that is patently offensive to an average citizen of the county.

  • The material must lack any serious artistic, literary, political, or scientific merit. 

Speak With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with disseminating obscene material, you should not hesitate to obtain the assistance of a skilled attorney. Contact attorney Edward R. Molari today to schedule a free case evaluation.