DVD players make possible pornography on wheels

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thanks to automotive and technological innovations, there is now something even more annoying than sharing the road with a driver holding a cell phone to his ear and not paying full attention to his driving.

Imagine coming up behind a vehicle with a DVD screen meant to occupy children in the rear seats with cartoons only to see graphic footage of a pornographic movie instead of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Although nationally some motorists have complained about having been offended by seeing pornographic images in a nearby vehicle, no one has filed a complaint with either the Cape Girardeau police or the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Cape Girardeau Police officer Jason Selzer said the police department would stop an offending vehicle if someone were willing to sign a complaint or if an officer saw it happen.

"A lot of times people say, 'I've seen this, but I don't want to waste my time making a report. You just look for it,'" Selzer said.

Sgt. Larry Plunkett of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said none of his officers has encountered such a complaint, possibly because traffic is slower on city streets and the likelihood of spotting an offending vehicle is higher.

"This is going to be a new problem for us," Plunkett said.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said if he is sent such a case, he will prosecute it under the Missouri statute forbidding public display of explicit sexual material.

A rolling pornographic movie is much the same as a rack of obscene magazines in a convenience store, he said. If it's in a populated area and people are offended by seeing it, and if the material fits Missouri's definition of explicit sexual material, then the driver of that car can be prosecuted. Unlike other states, Missouri clearly defines explicit sexual material, making these cases easier to prosecute.

Plunkett said there may be a problem proving that the driver of the offending vehicle actually meant for anyone other than his passengers to see the images.

"Looking into their space might be a problem," Plunkett said. "There are limited rights of privacy in a motor vehicle. That's strictly my interpretation of it."

Swingle disagrees. Foreseeability applies when someone would drive in a high-traffic area with an obscene movie playing in his car, Swingle said. It could be foreseen that someone else would see it. That likelihood would diminish in an isolated area.

Public display is a class A misdemeanor on the first offense carrying a penalty of at least six months in jail. A subsequent offense is a class D felony with a penalty of a maximum of 10 years.


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