A Knowing Interpretation of the Law
Misplaced knowledge can be a dangerous thing, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a child pornography case, and the ruling by a 7-2 majority makes sense. At issue is whether a law written by Congress in 1977 and amended in 1984 to combat child pornography could really be effective if its words were taken literally. Wisely, Chief Justice William Rehnquist decided to enforce what the law was intended to mean rather than what it actually said.
The confusion was prompted by the placement of the word "knowingly." The law makes child pornography a federal crime for anyone who "knowingly transports or ships" or "knowingly receives or distributes" material showing a minor involved in sexually explicit conduct. Implicit in such language is that the person involved in such transportation or distribution knows that the material is child pornography, but the language does not say so precisely.
The owner of a Los Angeles adult film store used that flaw to win reversal of his conviction of selling 49 videos to an undercover police officer. …