Williams was convicted of promoting child pornography in violation of the PROTECT Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(3)(B). He challenged his conviction on the grounds that the statute, on its face, is overbroad, vague, and violates the First Amendment. The PROTECT Act prohibits the promotion of illegal child pornography and obscene simulated child pornography, defining promotion as the "knowing" advertising, promotion, presentation, distribution, or soliciation of the material or purported material.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, finding the statute to be both overbroad and impermissably vague. First, it noted that the statute prohibits the promotion of "purported" material, which means that promotional speech is criminalized even when the material is legal or does not exist. Second, it noted that the non-commercial, non-inciteful promotion of illegal child pornography is protected speech under the First Amendment. Third, the Act criminalizes speech that “reflects the belief” that materials constitute obscene simulated or “real” child pornography. Thus liability can be established based purely on promotional speech reflecting the deluded belief that real children are depicted in otherwise legal child erotica. The court found the statute to be impermissibly vague because it premised criminal liability on "vague and standardless" language such as “in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe.”
Section 2252A(a)(3)(B) of Title 18 (Supp. IV 2004) prohibits “knowingly * * * advertis[ing], promot[ing], present[ing], distribut[ing], or solicit[ing] * * * any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to
cause another to believe, that the material or purported material” is illegal child pornography.
The question presented is whether Section 2252A(a)(3)(B) is overly broad and impermissibly vague, and thus facially unconstitutional.