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Article 134 - Mails: Depositing or Causing to Be Deposited Obscene Matters in

Paragraph 94 in the Manual for Court Martial deals with depositing or causing to be deposited, obscene matters in the mail. This offense is not specifically mentioned as a criminal offense, but it can be punished under Article 134 of the UMCJ.

The text of statute of Article 134 says that all neglects and disorders that are adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces; all conducts that could bring discredit to the armed forces or offenses and crimes that are not capital, can be punished by convening a court martial.

Elements of the offense

  • The accused has deposited or he caused to be deposited certain material in the mail which was mailed or delivered.
  • The accused committed the act knowingly and wrongfully.
  • The material mailed by the accused was obscene.
  • In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces or the nature of the act brought discredit to the armed forces.

Explanation for the elements

The definition of the word 'obscene' is synonymous with the meaning of the word 'indecent'. Language that grossly offends a person's decency, propriety or modesty or which can shock a person's moral sense, because of its filthy, disgusting or vulgar nature or tendency to cause lustful thought is called indecent. Language is also indecent if it has a reasonable tendency to incite libidinous thoughts or to corrupt morals.

The matter should be in violation of community standards of obscenity or decency and should exceed customary limits. 'Knowingly' means that the accused deposited the matter, fully aware of the nature of the material.

Maximum punishment for this offense

If an accused is held guilty of committing this offense, the maximum punishment that can be levied on him is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of allowances and pay and 5 years of confinement.

An example for a violation of the offense stated under Paragraph 94

The case is United States V. Negron (2004). The accused had written a cheque for $500, to be drawn on his account with the Marine Federal Credit Union. However, before the check could be cashed, he withdrew the money from the account. As a result, the check he had made was dishonored when it was presented to the credit union for payment, because of insufficient funds.

The accused then tried to replenish his account by applying for a loan with the credit union, but they refused his request. When the accused read the letter from the credit union communicating that they had rejected his loan application, the accused wrote an obscene letter and mailed it to the credit union.

The accused's offenses were later discovered and he was brought to face trial. Along with the said charge, he was also accused of stealing money, to the extent of $1540, from the postal safe, when he was working as postal clerk overseas.

The accused pleaded guilty to the offense of mailing obscene matter along with the offense of stealing. In the ensuring court martial, the military judge punished the accused with a bad conduct discharge, reduction of rank to the lowest possible grade (for enlisted men), forfeiture of allowances and pay and 12 months of confinement (the last bit, as per a pre-trial agreement the accused has negotiated with the prosecution).

When the case was taken before the Court of Military Appeals, it set aside the judgment because of a discrepancy in the definition of 'obscene' taken by the lower court. On reconsideration, however, it confirmed the judgment and the sentence delivered in the court martial.

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