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Owner of adult bookstore wins appeal of conviction


An Abingdon adult bookstore owner's conviction for displaying sexually obscene magazines and videos has been overturned by the state Court of Special Appeals.

The state's second-highest court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove Larry Craig Hicks was at U.S. Books, his adult magazine and video store at 3011 Pulaski Highway, when a Harford sheriff's deputy observed wall displays containing obscene material in plain view in May 1989.

In its ruling Tuesday, the court said the state also failed to prove that Mr. Hicks was in the store in June 1989, when the officer returned with a warrant and deputies seized about 1,100 sexually explicit magazines and videos.

Mr. Hicks, 45, was fined $25 for each of 78 counts and placed on two years' probation last March after a Harford Circuit jury trial before Judge Maurice W. Baldwin. The appeals court set aside that sentence and ordered Harford County to pay court costs.

Though Mr. Hicks was in his store in July 1989, when a deputy served an injunction, the appeals court found that the state never proved its charge that he displayed sexually explicit material, a misdemeanor.

At that time, the magazines were partly covered with plain white paper, the ruling said.

The appeals court also said Mr. Hicks' signature on corporate records, checks or business license applications for U.S. Books and 3011 Corporation Inc. did not prove that he owned the objectionable material or had any say in how the material was displayed.

"The fact that he [Mr. Hicks] may have handled the firm's financial affairs neither proves nor disproves his alleged involvement in the display of these [obscene] materials," the court stated.

Tuesday's ruling will have no bearing on the constitutionality question of the Harford County adult bookstore legislation, on which Chief U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black has yet to rule.

The county passed legislation last May that would require adult bookstore owners to obtain a $200 license to operate, and would place other restrictions on the stores.

Last August, Harford Circuit Judge William O. Carr ordered the county to stop enforcing the new law until its constitutionality could be decided in U.S. District Court.

The federal suit, filed on behalf of an Aberdeen adult bookstore, contends that the new law violates civil rights of owners and employees of the adult bookstores.

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