Rhode Island House Bill 7766


Summary

Rhode Island House Bill 7766 would criminalize the knowing and intentional use of a computer or electronic device to disseminate depictions of graphic or lascivious nudity or graphic sexual conduct to a person known or believed to be a minor.

A violation of the legislation would be a felony subject to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000 or both. Any person convicted of violating the legislation would also have to file with the state as a sex offender.

It is companion to Rhode Island Senate Bill 2610.

The bill was amended so that it would apply to material that meets the definition of obscenity under the Miller test.

Status

Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the amended bill into law, effectively immediately.

Analysis

The legislation as introduced is unconstitutionally overbroad, because it goes far beyond what the Supreme Court has said can be banned for minors. Such material, known as “harmful to minors,” is defined by a three-part test announced in Ginsberg v. New York and modified in Miller v. California. The definition in the legislation does include any of the prongs from the Miller/Ginsberg test.

If the definition in the bill were to include the Miller/Ginsberg test, it would still be unconstitutional if it were applied to websites generally accessible on the Internet. Courts have struck down laws that applied “harmful to minors” to the Internet, because they limit online content to what is acceptable for minors, and thus depriving adults of their First Amendment rights to access material that is legal for them.

The only exceptions to these decisions have been laws that were tied to luring or enticing a minor to engage in unlawful activity, or were limited to “harmful to minors” material that meets the three-prong test and was intended to be communicated directly to a specific person that the speaker has actual, rather than general, knowledge is a minor or believes to be a minor.

History

  • The bill was introduced [2] on February 27, 2014 and referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
  • On March 24, 2014, Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition [1], explaining the constitutional issues with the bill.
  • The House Committee on Judiciary held a hearing to consider the bill. After, the Committee recommended the bill be held for further study.
  • On May 28, 2014, the bill was amended [3] to apply only to material that meets the definition of obscenity under the Miller test. The House Committee on Judiciary recommended the bill be passed as amended.
  • The House passed the amended bill on June 3, 2014 and sent it to the Senate. The amended bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
  • The Senate Committee on Judiciary recommended the amended bill be passed on June 18, 2014. The Senate passed the amended bill and sent it to Gov. Lincoln Chafee for his signature.
  • On July 3, 2014, Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law, effective immediately.

 

Last updated: Sep 14, 2015