Charles Freeman, the owner of E-C Records store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is charged with illegally selling the rap album As Nasty As They Wanna Be to an undercover officer. Immediately after the sale, six deputies rushed in to the store, handcuffed Freeman, and charged him with distributing obscene material. Freeman’s arrest came two days after U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled that 2 Live Crew’s recording was legally obscene.
Freeman was defiant from beginning to end in the battle over 2 Live Crew’s allegedly obscene album. Following Judge Gonzalez’s ruling, which covered Dade, Broward, and Palm counties in South Florida, he ordered 25 copies of the album. With customers lining up to buy it, Freeman had nearly sold out when the undercover officer purchased a copy. Even before his arrest, he told reporters, “I’ll go to jail, and I’ll come back and sell it again.” A couple of days later, three members of 2 Live Crew, including leader Luther Campbell, were arrested for performing songs from the record at Club Futura.
In order to be considered obscene, Judge Gonzalez ruled that As Nasty As They Wanna Be was “an appeal to dirty thoughts and the loins” aimed to “lure listeners” into sexual activity. Despite expert testimony to the contrary, Gonzalez held that the “borrowed riffs” of 2 Live Crew were wholly lacking in artistic value. It was on this final ground that a court of appeals overruled Gonzalez, faulting him for simply ignoring the evidence and basing his ruling on his own opinion and feelings.
Yet, this ruling didn’t come in time to save Charles Freeman, who was convicted and fined $1,000 in October 1990 after the judge refused to allow the defense to present evidence to prove that the album wasn’t patently offensive. 2 Live Crew fared better in their trial, partly because the prosecution bungled the case; they recorded the performance on a cassette that turned out to be unintelligible.
The legal bills Freeman incurred made it necessary to close his record store when he fell behind in rent. Deep in debt, he began dealing drugs, and was charged with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in the Tallahassee area the following year. He received an 18-year sentence, making the eventual victory on the appeal of the obscenity conviction personally insignificant.
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