A Carlisle man has been arraigned in both Woburn and Concord District Courts on charges of dissemination of matter harmful to a minor. He is also charged with six counts of dissemination of obscene material, identity theft, and criminal harassment. His pre-trial conference date in Woburn District Court is scheduled for March 1. His Concord District Court pre-trial date is scheduled for March 26.
The prosecution alleges that a California resident contacted Concord police this fall claiming that a person had posted photographs from her Facebook page onto a pornographic website without her permission. During the course of the investigation, police allegedly discovered that the defendant had multiple fake Facebook accounts. He allegedly used the accounts to initiate online contact and send the contacts unsolicited sexual images. Some of the images showed printed photos of the recipients covered in what looked like a bodily fluid. One alleged victim was 14 years old, and the defendant allegedly engaged in sexual conversations with children. The Concord, Carlisle, and Wilmington police departments are continuing the investigation along with state police assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
It is unclear what led police to the defendant, but computers and the anonymity of the Internet sometimes complicate these types of cases in ways that might be favorable for defendants. For instance, there can be multiple people, sometimes in separate households, using the same IP address or Internet connection. Because of this, it can be difficult for police and prosecutors to identify which particular user is responsible for Internet communications.
Here in Massachusetts, a conviction of dissemination of matter harmful to a minor, if it involves an electronic communication, requires proof that the defendant specifically intended to direct the communication to a person he knew or believed to be a minor. Here, the defendant apparently did not know the 14- year- old, and it may be difficult for the government to prove that he believed the 14-year-old to be a minor. It is also unclear from this article whether the allegation is that the defendant sent photos to the minor or whether he had sexual conversations with the minor. The word “matter,” for the purposes of dissemination of matter harmful to a minor, does not include online conversations, online messages, or electronically transmitted text. Even if, as is alleged, the defendant did print images from the complainants’ Facebook accounts and send back images of the photos covered in what appeared to be bodily fluid, a strong position for the defendant is that this conduct falls short of “obscenity” in the legal sense. Contemporary standards are applied in determining whether an item is obscene, and there has to be some patently offensive depiction or description of sexual conduct. While “sexual conduct” includes masturbation, there is no indication in this case that the act masturbation was depicted, even though the photos allegedly showed bodily fluid. In this case, based on the description of the “sexual images,” it does not seem that any sexual conduct was depicted in the images.