The basic guidelines in determining whether material is obscene are: (a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Defendant mailed brochures that contained pictures of sexually explicit activities to individuals who had not requested the material, and the individuals notified the police. A case was filed against him for violating Cal. Penal Code § 311.2(a) by knowingly distributing obscene matter. The court convicted him and defendant sought review.
Were the proper standards used during defendant's trial?
The court vacated the state court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court defined the standards that were to be used to identify obscene material that a state might regulate without infringing on the First Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the standard to determine whether material was obscene was whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, not national standards, would find that the work appealed to the prurient interest, whether the work depicted sexual conduct defined by state law, and whether the work lacked serious literary, artistic, or scientific value. The Court vacated and remanded the state court's decision.