United States v. Williams Case Brief

Why is the case important?

After being indicted for false representation, John Williams (respondent) filed a Motion for Disclosure of all exculpatory portions of the grand jury transcripts. Upon finding that the prosecution did not present this exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, respondent requested that his indictment be dismissed.

Facts of the case

“Michael Williams was convicted in federal district court of “”pandering”” (promoting) child pornography. The PROTECT Act proscribes the pandering of “”any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe”” that the material is illegal child pornography. The Act represents Congress’s attempt to outlaw sexually explicit images of children – including both images of real children and computer-generated images of realistic virtual children. The Supreme Court struck down Congress’s previous effort as overbroad in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Council , because the law as written could have outlawed artwork that was neither obscene nor child pornography. Williams argued that the PROTECT Act was similarly overbroad, but the district court held that the government can legitimately outlaw the pandering of material as child pornography, even if the material is not in fact child pornography.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court and struck down the PROTECT Act as unconstitutionally overbroad. The Eleventh Circuit was unmoved by the government’s argument that prosecuting the promotion of virtual child pornography as real is necessary to combat the child porn market. The Circuit Court held that the Act’s prohibition was broad enough to include any “”braggart, exaggerator, or outright liar”” who claims in a non-commercial context to have child pornography but actually does not. Thus, the Act’s pandering provision prohibited protected speech as well as actual child pornography.”


Whether a district court may dismiss an otherwise valid indictment because the Government failed to disclose to the grand jury exculpatory evidence.


It is incumbent upon the defendant to present exculpatory evidence. Reversed.



  • Case Brief: 1992
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Williams
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 504 US 36 (1992)
Argued: Jan 22, 1992
Decided: May 4, 1992