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Supreme Court Considers Oral Copulation

March 25, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Putting your money where your mouth is might get you in big trouble. Two exotic dancers "going up and down" on a dollar bill led to a liquor license suspension in Springfield - and led the Club Mercedes to the state's highest court.

Missouri liquor control alleges two dancers - known as Angel and Peaches - violated a law banning "simulated oral copulation" in November 1992.

Defining "simulated oral copulation" was the focus of oral arguments Thursday in the Missouri Supreme Court.

Lower courts had voided the suspension - because the statute was deemed too vague. The Attorney General's office is seeking to have their rulings reversed.

"In my six years of practicing law, I never thought I'd be here discussing oral copulation," said Chris Stark, attorney for Club Mercedes.

Several justices appeared to try - without success - to refrain from smirking throughout the proceeding.

"A person of common sense can figure out what 'oral' and 'copulation' mean," said Assistant Attorney General Michael Zito. "The dollar bill was meant to simulate a penis." Zito told the court other states used the same language.

Stark said lower courts felt it vague - and said those judges had "at least average" intelligence.

"Is it possible that people who are very smart can over-analyze something?" asked Justice John Holstein.

Stark said the vagueness of the statute rendered it to be a violation of 1st and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, Zito noted that establishments serving liquor are held under a different standard - and that the 21st Amendment gave Missouri the power to regulate liquor sales.

The 21st Amendment abolished prohibition, but also gave states power to regulate - or prohibit - liquor sales within their borders. Some observers feel this gives states absolute regulatory power over liquor sales.

But lewdness, not liquor, was the primary focus of arguments - specifically the definition of "simulated oral copulation."

"I asked the officer, you fold this dollar bill until it you think it looks like a penis," Stark said, adding that the officer was unsuccessful.

He also said that "arousal" was a prerequisite for a finding of lewdness - and that no one involved said they had been aroused.

Stark characterized the phrase "simulated oral copulation" as a "simulated biological impossibility" - because copulation was defined as a genital joining and oral pertained to the mouth. He suggested a "little smooch" could be interpreted as oral copulation.

Stark said it was impossible to be law-abiding when the law can mean "whatever you want it to mean." "What about a female drinking beer out of a long-neck bottle, slowly, sensuously, languidly ... "

"You're out of time," interrupted Chief Justice Duane Benton, cutting him off mid-sentence.