"I think there's some room for debate," said Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law who specializes in First Amendment issues. "The case raises potentially fascinating issues."
The controversy began when Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd -- outraged that no one was doing anything -- directed his detectives to go undercover and order a book titled "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-lover's Code of Conduct." The book was self-published by a man named Phillip R. Greaves II of Pueblo, Colo., and was briefly sold on Amazon but was removed following protests.
On Nov. 29, a Polk County detective mailed a letter to Greaves requesting a copy of the book, according to information in an arrest warrant. Greaves e-mailed back on Dec. 3 and wrote: "I can't order any new copies at this time, so I am sending you my own personal copy. I hope that is all right with you." The Sheriff's Department sent $50 for the book and shipping.
On Dec. 8, the book arrived. "This book contains obscene material that depicts minors engaged in acts harmful to minors," a detective wrote in the search warrant. The book did not contain photos of children.
The Sheriff's Department said it met with the State Attorney's Office and then presented the evidence to Polk County Judge J. Michael McCarthy, who found probable cause to issue an arrest warrant. Greaves was arrested Monday in Colorado on the charge of distribution of obscene materials depicting minors engaged in activities harmful to minors.
Polk County deputies escorted him on a commercial flight to Florida. He is scheduled to appear in court at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Some think the Sheriff's Department may be overreaching, even though the material was distributed in Florida.
"As bad as the book may be, the charge opens a very big Pandora's box," Dennis J. Kenney, a former Polk County police officer who is now a professor at John Jay College Criminal Justice in New York, told The Associated Press. "The charges sound to me like a significant overreach."
But a university colleague, professor Lawrence Kobilinsky, offers a different take.
"On moral grounds I think the sheriff has done the right thing. I think the sheriff's on good grounds morally and probably legally as well," Kobilinsky told AOL News.
David Cole, a law professor at the Georgetown University, pointed out that the obscenity charge is far different from a child pornography charge. The latter is clearly not protected by the First Amendment when photos depict a minor in a sexual manner.
He said the obscenity case will come down to "community standards" and whether a Polk County jury finds the book not only offensive, but of no redeeming social value.
Under Florida law, it is a third-degree felony to sell or distribute "written or printed story or article, writing or printed matter based on materials that depict a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors."
Lidsky, the Florida professor, says the standards of obscenity will come down to whether the work lacked "any serious literary, artistic or scientific value." She said the law has been careful not to implicate some serious literary works that could be considered obscene by some.
She said this case is something the Supreme Court might be willing to look at if it decides to examine whether community standards in the Internet age should remain local or be much broader.
"This is the kind of case that raises the issue very forcefully," she said. However, she added: "If it's really a guide to pedophilia, I can't see any community anywhere thinking that's OK."
Sheriff Judd told AOL News he's glad he took the action and said his office has gotten supportive e-mails and phone calls from around the world. He also insisted the First Amendment doesn't apply in this case.
He noted that freedom of speech doesn't allow people to yell "fire" in a crowded theater or say they're going to kill the president.
"Then why can you write a book replete with examples on how to rape and molest children?"