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Court Rules National Geographic and Naturist Catalogue Pictures Not Child Pornography

Court Rules National Geographic and Naturist Catalogue Pictures Not Child Pornography

John Rex is a prisoner at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk. On August 31, 2011, after a search of Rex's cell, guards found an envelope containing seven pictures depicting naked children. The pictures were described as black and white, grainy, and clearly photocopies. Rex told the guards he had had the pictures for several years and the images were from National Geographic magazines and naturist catalogues.

A Norfolk County grand jury later indicted Rex for seven counts of possession of child pornography. Rex moved for dismissal of the indictments, arguing the pictures did not constitute child pornography and were protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.

After a hearing, a superior court judge dismissed the indictments, ruling that none of the photocopies portrayed a "lewd exhibition" of the children's body parts as required by Massachusetts law. The state appealed and the case went directly to the state supreme court.

After reviewing the photos in question, the Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that the lower court correctly held that none of the images were "lewd" within the meaning of the law. The Court said that none of the pictures "focused" on the genitals of the children and the nudity was "incidental." The court rejected the state's argument that the mere fact that a pedophile possessed the pictures rendered them "lewd."

That the "photocopies originated from photographs accompanying written materials of an educational or recreational nature that are readily available to the general public," meant the images were not "lewd," the Court said. The Court cited numerous cases which held that pictorials in National Geographic and magazines devoted to nudists' lifestyles are not deemed lewd exhibitions. See: Commonwealth v. Rex, 469 Mass. 36 (Mass. 2014).

Related legal case

Commonwealth v. Rex