Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Obscenity standards on trial


Store boss faces charges

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Jeffrey R. Busemeyer is supposed to go on trial today - and so are "community standards."

In the first obscenity trial involving a Butler County retailer in two years, a jury will be asked to decide whether Busemeyer, 46, of Wyoming, is guilty of offering obscene videos for sale at Pik Kwik Market, the West Chester Township store he manages.

A Common Pleas Court jury will be instructed to view the videos and decide whether they meet the legal definition of "obscene material." A key part of the test: whether the videos depict sexual conduct that is offensive to community standards.

In years past, Butler prosecutors have had little success persuading jurors to convict in obscenity cases - partly because "community standards" are open to interpretation. But Prosecutor Robin Piper said he is determined to overcome that hurdle.

His office has successfully prosecuted at least nine defendants on charges involving child pornography transferred from the Internet. But the Busemeyer case is different: It involves adult images and is the county's first obscenity trial against a retailer since Piper took office in 2001. The trial is expected to span four days. Neither Busemeyer nor his lawyer, H. Louis Sirkin, returned phone calls seeking comment. However, at the time of Busemeyer's indictment in March on four counts of pandering obscenity, Sirkin said he expected to fight the charges and to prevail, given the rarity of obscenity convictions against retailers in Butler County. If Busemeyer is convicted, he faces six to 12 months in prison on each charge and a maximum fine of $2,500.

Citizens for Community Values, a Cincinnati anti-smut group, wants to see more prosecutions of this type. The group claims Butler County has 11 other locations selling obscene videos - and "their day is coming," said Phil Burress, the group's president.

Piper said the nature of obscenity cases makes it difficult to seat a jury that truly reflects community standards.

"There are people who do not want to see this type of material, and so they truthfully tell the judge - and that knocks them off the jury," Piper said. Another hurdle: jurors' reluctance to infringe on First Amendment rights to free expression, Piper said. But he said those rights are not absolute - and obscenity and other laws draw the boundaries between what's acceptable and what's not.

But Piper said there are alternatives to prosecution, too. Following investigation, one Butler outlet selling objectionable videos has agreed to cease business.

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E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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