The MySpace Suicide Indictment -- And Why It Should Be Dismissed:
Today the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles indicted Lori Drew for her role in the suicide of a 13-year old girl
A federal grand jury indicted a Missouri woman Thursday for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who committed suicide.
Megan Meier, 13, hanged herself in her bedroom after being targeted in a MySpace hoax.
Lori Drew of suburban St. Louis is said to have helped create a false-identity MySpace account to contact Megan Meier, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Josh didn't exist.
Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006 after receiving cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her.
Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, called the case heart-rending.
"The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses," Hernandez said. "Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions."
Drew was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl.
This case involves a terrible tragedy. But the government's legal theory, based entirely on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030, is very weak. Legally speaking, the prosecution is a real stretch. In my view, the courts should dismiss the indictment
. In this post, I'll explain why.
To understand this case, you need to understand the government's theory. The indictment is not charging Drew with harassment. Nor are they charging her with homicide. Rather, the government's theory in this case is that Drew criminally trespassed onto MySpace's server by using MySpace in a way that violated MySpace's Terms of Service (TOS).
Here's the idea. The TOS required Drew to provide accurate registration information, not to harass or harm other people, and not to promote conduct that was abusive. She didn't comply with these terms, the theory goes, so she was criminally trespassing onto MySpace's computer when she was logging into her account. The indictment turns this into a federal felony conspiracy charge by arguing that she did this in concert with others to obtain information and to further tortious conduct — intentional infliction of emotional distress — violating the felony provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2).
But these arguments are a real stretch for three reasons. Problem One:
The first major hurdle is a legal question that I wrote an article on in 2003: Is it a federal crime to violate contractual limitations on use of a computer? The federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 1030
, generally prohibits accessing a computer "without authorization" or "exceeding authorized access." But what makes an access "without authorization"? If the computer owner says that you can only access the computer if you are left-handed, or if you agree to be nice, are you committing a crime if you use the computer and are nasty or you are right-handed? If you violate the Terms of Service, are you committing a crime?
In my article, Cybercrime's Scope: Interpreting "Access" and "Authorization" in Computer Misuse Statutes
, 78 NYU L. Rev. 1596 (2003), I argue that the answer should be "no." I won't recite the legal arguments here, as you can just read the article itself. (You can imagine the basic idea, though: Since everyone who uses computers violates dozens of different TOS every day, the theory would make everyone who uses computers a felon.) However, I will point out that the MySpace case is to my knowledge the very first federal indictment that has tried to claim that violations of Terms of Service for an Internet account amounts to a crime under Section 1030. In fact, I wrote my NYU article in part because I figured it was only a matter of time before a sympathetic case came along and some aggressive prosecutor would try the argument and see if it flew. It looks like this is the test case. Problem Two:
The second and third legal hurdles to the prosecution are less intellectually interesting but clearer and easier for the defense to make. The first problem is that the crime requires the government to show that Drew intended to violate the Terms of Service. That is, lack of authorization must be intentional — it must have been Drew's conscious object to have violated the TOS. But here there is no evidence that Drew even read the TOS. Most people don't, of course; I would be surprised if 1 person in 100 actually tried reading it. If Drew wasn't aware that she was violating the TOS, she couldn't be exceeding her authorized access intentionally. (Paragraph 11 of the indictment lamely notes that a copy of the TOS was "readily available" to MySpace Users if they went looking for it, clicked the link, and read it. But the statute requires intent, so whether the TOS was "readily available" is irrelevant.) Problem Three:
The third hurdle, and perhaps the easiest way for the defense to win, is that the government's theory requires proof that the goal of the conspiracy was to obtain information. The alleged underlying crime here is 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), which prohibits exceeding authorized access to a computer to get information. Think hacking in to get credit card numbers, to get a copy of a special computer file, or to take data from a database. But based on the facts discussed in the indictment and the news stories, it doesn't seem that Drew had the intent to obtain information from her victim. Her apparent goal was to harass her victim and to cause emotional distress, not to obtain information from her. That may not make it morally or ethically any less objectionable; indeed, perhaps it is more so. But the statute wasn't violated unless Drew was acting to try to obtain information, and it doesn't seem like that was her intent.
UPDATE: Over at Concurring Opinions
, Daniel Solove agrees with most of the analysis but comments on this last issue: "I'm not so sure I agree. The news accounts I read about the case indicated that one of Drew's primary motivations for creating the fake profile was to learn information from Megan Meier. She wanted to know information from Megan that pertained to her own daughter, who was a classmate of Megan's. The harassing came later on." I haven't read the news reports closely, so maybe we'll have to wait and see how the facts unfold on the third issue.
Pro Bono Defense in United States v. Lori Drew:
I have blogged before about the remarkable case of United States v. Lori Drew
, the so-called "MySpace suicide" case, in which the government is claiming that it is a federal crime to violate Internet Terms of Service. At the time, I had explained why I thought the prosecution was terribly misguided, and I mentioned that I had provided some informal advice to the defense.
In the last two weeks, I have gone an important step further: I have formally joined Dean Steward, counsel for Lori Drew, as Drew's co-counsel. My participation is pro bono, based on my strong sense that the government's theory of the case poses a very real threat to civil liberties online. (Check out my 2003 article on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
to see why.)
In any event, I don't plan to blog much about the case, but I did want to post some of the recently-filed legal documents in the case and just mention my involvement. The documents are below. As per my usual practice when blogging about pending litigation, I'll keep the comment thread closed.
1. Defense's Court Ordered Supplement to Motions
, filed October 6.
2. Government's Response to Court's September 23 Inquiry
, filed October 6.
3. Defense's Reply to Government's Response to Pre-Trial Conference Order
, filed October 20.
Lori Drew Update:
The St. Louis Post Dispatch
has this update
on proceedings today in the Lori Drew case.
"Judge: Evidence of suicide OK at Web hoax trial":
The Associated Press has this update
in the Lori Drew case. The case is now set to go to trial next week in Los Angeles. (For those wondering, no, unfortunately I will not be in Los Angeles to participate in the trial in person; next week is our last full week of class at GW, so much to my regret I cannot be away for this.)
Opening Arguments in United States v. Lori Drew:
Kim Zetter of Wired
has the story. I feel compelled to point out the very bottom of the story, which briefly notes the side that has mostly been absent from press coverage of the case:
Defense attorney H. Dean Steward, delivering his opening remarks, painted a very different picture. He claimed that Drew knew about the plan to create the hoax MySpace profile and manipulate Meier, but neither encouraged nor participated in it.
Steward told the jury that forensics evidence will prove the account was not created from Drew's computer, and that no messages were sent by Drew.
"Judge Postpones Ruling In Lori Drew Case":
Kim Zetter of Wired has the latest update
in the Lori Drew case, namely that Judge Wu decided not to rule at this time on the defense's latest motion to dismiss (this one specifically raising the lack of evidence that any Terms of Service violation was intentional). Our legal briefing on the motion, briefing that Judge Wu sought following Friday's motion at the close of the government's case, is available here
. The government's response is here
. The evidence in the case has now been submitted, and closing arguments are being held this afternoon.
Jury Question in the Lori Drew Case:
The jury in the Lori Drew case spent the day deliberating, and a question asked by the jury
suggests that a verdict may have been reached in some counts already:
A Los Angeles federal court jury deliberating in the MySpace cyber-bullying trial of a Missouri mother has suggested in a note to the judge that it has reached verdicts on three of the four counts.
The note sent Tuesday during the first day of deliberations asked, "Can we be hung on one count but unanimous on the others?"
U.S. District Court Judge George Wu told the jurors to return Wednesday and resume deliberations.
Lori Drew Jury Reaches a Verdict:
According to the Associated Press
. The verdict has not yet been announced, but should be announced as soon as the court can reconvene. Also, note that in the event of a guilty verdict on some or all counts, Judge Wu has still yet to rule on the Rule 29 motion to dismiss.
UPDATE: Fox News reports
A jury has convicted a Missouri mother of lesser, misdemeanor crimes in the MySpace cyber-bullying case linked to a 13-year-old girl's suicide.
The Los Angeles federal court jury on Wednesday rejected felony charges of accessing a computer without authorization to inflict emotional distress on young Megan Meier.
However, the jury found defendant Lori Drew guilty of three counts of the lesser offense of accessing a computer without authorization.
The jurors could not reach a verdict on a conspiracy count.
Now the attention will turn to Judge Wu, who has yet to rule on the Rule 29 motion to dismiss. Also, note that for purposes of appeal, which will follow if Judge Wu does not grant the Rule 29 motion, this verdict focuses attention on the proseuction's core theory in the case: the theory that violating Terms of Service of a website is itself a federal crime. That is, the nature of the jury's verdict -- if not set aside by Judge Wu -- will allow the appeal to focus directly on the computer crime issue rather than on the suicide and its admissibility.
What Does the Lori Drew Verdict Mean?:
For those trying to make sense of the mixed verdict
in the Lori Drew case, here's a quick (and somewhat simplified) guide to what it means.
The government's theory in the Lori Drew case is that it is a federal crime to intentionally violate the Terms of Service on a website, and that it becomes a more serious crime — a felony rather than a misdemeanor — if the Terms of Service are violated to further a criminal or tortious act. The tortious act the government alleged is intentional infliction of emotional distress, which in this case was alleged to have led to Meier's suicide.
The jury agreed that it is a federal crime to intentionally violate the Terms of Service on a website, and that Drew directly or indirectly did so, but it acquitted Drew of having violated Terms of Service in furtherance of the tortious act. That is, the jury ruled that Drew is guilty of relatively lower-level crimes for violating MySpacs Terms of Service (for being involved in the setting up of a fake MySpace account). It acquitted Drew for any role in inflicting distress on Meier or for anything related to Meier's suicide. The maximum allowed penalty for the misdemeanor violations are one year in prison for each violation, although the majority of federal misdemeanors result in a sentence of probation.
The next step in the case is that the trial judge will rule on whether there was enough evidence for the jury to find that Drew violated the Terms of Service intentionally, or whether the TOS violation was only negligent or reckless or knowing. If the judge agrees that there was enough evidence for the jury to find that Drew violated the Terms of Service intentionally, the case will go on to sentencing for the crime of having violated MySpace's Terms of Service.
After sentencing, if that happens, the sentence will be followed by an appeal before the Ninth Circuit on the legal question of whether it is in fact a federal crime to violate the Terms of Service of a website. For those not following my coverage of the case, I am one of Drew's attorneys, and yes, if there is an appeal, I will be very heavily involved in it.
The Lori Drew Jury:
The St. Louis Post Dispatch
has a story drawn from an interview with the forewoman of the jury in the Lori Drew case. An excerpt:
The forewoman of the jury that convicted Lori Drew of misdemeanors for cyber bullying said Monday that a majority of the panel favored a felony conspiracy verdict that could have sent her to prison.
Most jurors believed a felony conviction would send a message that Internet sites should be better regulated for fraud, the forewoman, Valentina Kunasz, said in a telephone interview.
But four jurors would not be convinced, Kunasz said, blocking a felony verdict.
"I would have liked to see this lady go to jail to change the way Internet sites are run," said Kunasz, 25, a former hairdresser who lives in Los Angeles County.
. . .
Kunasz described herself as among eight jurors who believed that Drew acted maliciously.
"I didn't think she intended to have this girl kill herself," Kunasz said. "But she knew she was suicidal, depressed and taking medicines, and still continued to pursue this act."
It didn't matter much whether Drew typed the messages to Megan, or whether it was Sarah or Grills, Kunasz said. Drew didn't stop it, and that was malicious.
"What is a 47-year-old woman doing egging on her child and employee to do this?" the juror asked.
Four holdouts on the 12-member jury believed that Drew set up the MySpace page to learn what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter, not to harm her, Kunasz said.
"I wish that those four other jurors would have had a different opinion," she said. "But they thought what they thought, and they were entitled to that."
None of the other jurors could be reached for comment. . . .
Kunasz said the jurors rejected three felony charges — unauthorized access of a computer with the intent of using interstate communication to inflict emotional distress — because they did not find the messages on specific dates tied to the charges to be particularly malicious.
Instead, they found Drew guilty of misdemeanor versions that required prosecutors to prove only that the computer access was unauthorized.
Kunasz said the jury could not consider the final message from "Josh" to Megan — "The world would be a better place without you" — because it was sent via an instant message program outside MySpace and wasn't "interstate" communication. "It would have been helpful if it could have been considered," Kunasz said.
Thanks to How Appealing for the link.
Foreperson in Drew Jury "Always" Reads Terms of Service, Feels Jail May Be Appropriate for "Lazy" People Who Don't:
As I noted below, the forewoman in the Lori Drew case has been speaking to the press. Here's what she told Kim Zetter of Wired
"Trust me, I was so for this woman going away for 20 years," Valentina Kunasz told Threat Level. "However, on the harsher felony charge, it was very hard to find her guilty on the specific [evidence] given to us."
Kunasz said despite all the debate outside the courtroom about the prosecution's use of an anti-hacking statute to charge Drew for violating a website's terms of service, jurors never considered whether the statute was appropriate. However, she said she agrees with the idea that users who violate a website's terms of service should be prosecuted.
"The thing that really bothered me was that [Drew's] attorney kept claiming that nobody reads the terms of service," she said. "I always read the terms of service.... If you choose to be lazy and not go though that entire agreement or contract of agreement, then absolutely you should be held liable."
Should they be punished with a federal prison sentence?
"I guess that's an option for debate," Kunasz said. "When it's gross circumstances of someone killing themselves.... "
I'll withhold comment under the circumstances, except to note that this post
by Zetter on the chances that the verdict will survive appellate review is also worth reading.
Los Angeles Times, USA Today Run Editorials Opposing Lori Drew Verdict:
Today both the Los Angeles Times
and the USA Today
are running editorials against the government's prosecution of Lori Drew under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The Los Angeles Times
editorial is titled "Government as CyberBully," and it argues that Judge Wu should grant our motion to dismiss:
[T]he prosecutors' interpretation of Section 1030 would "criminalize the everyday conduct of millions of Internet users." The government should be particularly wary when the allegedly criminal activity is speech, even when that speech leads to something as tragic as Megan's death. Websites can and should do a better job of responding to cyber-bullying and other abuses of their terms of service, rather than relying on the federal government to do it for them. Wu reserved judgment when Drew's lawyer asked him to acquit Drew of the charges before the jury began its deliberations. He should grant that motion now.
The USA Today's editorial
is titled "MySpace case bends the law":
Drew wasn't convicted of driving someone to suicide or showing criminally poor judgment, but of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes unauthorized use of a computer a crime.
The law was written in the 1980s to deter computer hackers and has been revamped several times, but this was the first time it was used to punish cyberbullying. To find a way to charge Drew, prosecutors might have stretched the law too far and made potential criminals out of millions of Americans.
Any Internet surfer is familiar with the ritual it takes to join many websites, including social networking ones such as MySpace, which is where the bullying occurred. You're presented with legalese known as the "terms of service" and asked to accept them. Most people never bother to read them, but by clicking "Yes" or "I accept," you've crossed a legal threshold. If you violate those terms — even if you have no clue what they are — you're not just breaking the website's rules, you also might be committing a criminal act. Drew was convicted of violating MySpace's terms of service.
This could create millions of "criminals," because Internet users commonly violate terms of service for valid reasons. For example, people worried about identity theft or online predators often join websites under fake names, a practice explicitly prohibited by some websites, including MySpace.
It's absurd to think that prosecutors busy with real crimes will comb the country looking for people who violate website policies, but it's a little less outlandish to imagine that a politically motivated prosecutor could take advantage of an overly broad law.
. . . . [S]ince the Missouri tragedy shows how dangerous cyberbullying can be, it makes sense to update harassment laws to attack it directly. That could provide a way to hold the next Lori Drew liable — without making potential criminals of innocent people in the process.
(Incidentally, click here for a prescient law review article
that foresaw the governemnt's theory in the Drew case five years ago and explained the problems with such a theory.)
In an effort to achieve balance, the USA Today has also run an essay in favor of the Lori Drew prosecution by Nick Akerman
, an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney who appears from his firm bio to have built a civil practice relying on broad constructions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (Akerman is the co-chair of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Practice at the firm.) As far as I know, Akerman is the only self-described "expert" on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act who actually supports the government's theory in the Drew prosecution. Akerman tries to make the case for the prosecution here
As an advocate in the Drew case, I'm certainly pleased by these editorials. It's not every day that two of the most important newspapers in the country take your client's side in litigation. And as a scholar of computer crime law, I'm also pretty amazed: I can't say I ever expected the LAT and the USA Today to run editorials on the proper construction of 18 U.S.C. 1030 -- and to get it right!
Additional Briefing On Motion to Dismiss in Lori Drew Case:
Two weeks ago, I posted this Supplement to the Rule 29 Motion to Dismiss
in the Lori Drew case. Here's some additional briefing on the motion, hot off the word processors. First, on Tuesday the Government filed this Response
to our Supplement. And just a few moments ago, we filed this Reply
to the Government's Response.
Lori Drew Hearing Update:
This morning Judge Wu of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles held a hearing on our motion to dismiss in the Lori Drew case. I argued for the defense, and AUSA Mark Krause argued for the government. The hearing lasted about 45 minutes. I don't yet have a transcript, but there's some coverage of the hearing from the Associated Press
and Wired News
All in all, I thought it was a useful and productive hearing. Judge Wu was very interested and engaged, and he asked very good questions of both sides. He didn't leave an impression as to which way he would rule, at least as best I could tell, but he indicated that he would be writing up a decision on the case when he reached a decision. The sentencing date was pushed to April 30th, on the thinking that Judge Wu would first need to rule on our motion to dismiss and that the sentencing hearing would be dropped if the motion to dismiss is granted.
New Filing in Lori Drew Case:
Readers following the Lori Drew case will recall that District Judge Wu held oral argument on the motion to dismiss back on January 8. Judge Wu has not yet handed down his ruling. However, this morning we filed the following Supplement to our Rule 29 Motion
in light of recent caselaw developments.
Lori Drew, Take 2?: The Government's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Prosecution in United States v. Nosal:
I have blogged a great deal about the Lori Drew case, in which the government is arguing that mere breach of Terms of Service violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030
, which prohibits accessing a computer "without authorization." It turns out that there's another case in which the government is testing a similarly broad theory of the CFAA, if not an even broader one. The case is United States v. Nosal
, No. CR 08-0237 MHP, a case in the Northern District of California presently before Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.
The facts of Nosal
are pretty close to those of the most common fact pattern found in the civil caselaw of Section 1030, raised for the first time in a criminal case. The basic fact pattern is this: Employee at Company A decides that he is going to leave company A and join competitor company B, and he accesses the computers of Company A before he leaves. During that access, he looks around the files stored on Company A's servers looking for information he might be able to use at Company B. After the employee leaves, Company A then sues the employee and Company B on the theory that by using Company A's computers with a subjective intent to help Company B, the employee was accessing Company A's computer "without authorization." That is, by acting contrary to the interests of Company A, the employee was implicitly no longer authorized to access the Computers of A.
Courts are sharply divided on this theory in the civil context. Almost all the caselaw is district court caselaw, so there isn't a circuit split yet. But there have been about 20 district court decisions on this, about 10 of which were handed down in the last year alone, and the cases are divided almost 50/50 (or should I say 10/10?) between decisions accepting the theory and decisions rejecting it. Also, there is a clear trend in the caselaw: The earlier decisions generally accepted this theory, and the more recent cases tend to reject it. The one federal appeals court opinion to address the issue agreed with this theory, International Airport Centers v. Citrin
, in a rather breezy opinion by Judge Posner in 2006 (I blogged about it at my solo blog here
). As far as I know, however, this theory has not been tried in such a case in the criminal context.
At least until the Nosal
case, that is. I have posted some of the filings in the Nosal
1) Initial indictment (later superceded, but it gives you the basic idea of the government's theory of the case),
2) Motion to dismiss indictment for failure to state an offense
3) Government opposition to motion to dismiss, and
There's a lot going on in the Nosal
case beyond the broad theory of the CFAA, I should emphasize. The matter has also been charged as mail fraud and a theft of trade secrets, for example, and the government claims that there are facts to prove unauthorized access beyond the Citrin
theory that an employee who uses an employer's computer with a bad motive is a criminal. Still, it appears that the government is indeed relying on that theory in several counts of the Nosal
case, I believe for the first time in any criminal setting outside the Lori Drew case.
In my view, the government's broad theory of the CFAA should be rejected in the Nosal
case for the same reasons that the government's similar theory of the CFAA should be rejected in the Lori Drew case. Perhaps the conduct alleged in the Nosal
indictment amounts to a theft of trade secrets, or mail fraud, or interstate transportation of stolen property, or some other criminal offense. But accessing a computer in a way contrary to the interests of its owners does not make that access criminal. The early civil cases adopting a very broad construction of the statute were simply incorrect, in my view. The early courts didn't understand that they were interpreting a criminal statute; they didn't understand that the interpretation of the CFAA should follow the fraud in the factum/fraud in the inducement dictinction; and they didn't apply the rule of lenity or consider how such interpretations would raise obvious overbreadth problems in the criminal setting. To the extent the government is relying on the Citrin
agency theory of the CFAA, I hope the court will reject that effort and force the government to stick to the narrower reading of the CFAA that Congress intended.
I raised a lot of the arguments against the government's theory in an article on the CFAA
back in 2003, and I hope the court will address the theory and reject it squarely in the Nosal
case. In the meantime, the Nosal
case is very much worth watching: Judge Patel may hand down a ruling on this issue before Judge Wu decides the very similar issues in the Lori Drew case, meaning that Judge Patel may be the first judge to address these important issues.
Lori Drew Update:
Readers following the Lori Drew case will be interested in this post
by Kim Zetter on the upcoming sentencing scheduled for May 18th. As the post makes clear, Judge Wu has not yet ruled on the defense's Rule 29 motion to dismiss, but is expected to do so soon.
Additional Sentencing Briefs in Lori Drew Case:
The sentencing hearing in the Lori Drew prosecution is scheduled for May 18, now just five days away. In the last two days, both the prosecution and defense have filed supplemental sentencing briefs responding to the sentencing position of the other. The defense's response to the government's sentencing brief is available here
. The government's response to the defense's sentencing brief is here
As I have noted previously, Judge Wu has not yet ruled on the defense's motions to dismiss, so the issues of whether violating the TOS is a crime and whether there was sufficient evidence that any such violation was intentional have not yet been decided.
Judge Wu Reschedules Sentencing in Lori Drew Case to July, Leaves Motion to Dismiss Undecided:
Today was the scheduled day for sentencing in the Lori Drew case, and presumably the day when Judge Wu would hand down the ruling on the motion to dismiss. I wasn't able to make it out there for the ruling, but the Associated Press is reporting
that Judge Wu did not decide the motion to dismiss and instead rescheduled the sentencing hearing to July:
A Los Angeles federal judge has delayed the sentencing of a Missouri mother for her role in a MySpace hoax directed at a 13-year-old neighbor girl who ended up committing suicide.
U.S. District Judge George Wu on Monday rescheduled Lori Drew's sentencing to July 2.
The judge says he wants to review some testimony by prosecution witnesses. He did not rule on a defense motion to dismiss Drew's convictions on three misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization
UPDATE, @7pm: Kim Zetter of Wired News has now posted her summary
, which adds a bit of detail:
After an hour of discussion with prosecutors and Drew's defense attorney, U.S. District Judge George Wu indicated he was still weighing a defense motion to overturn the jury verdict in the case and that he needs to review transcripts from the trial to weigh both the motion to overturn and the sentencing. Sentencing is now set for July 2nd.
Wu peppered U.S. attorney Mark Krause repeatedly about using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prosecute Drew and the government's assertions about who constitutes a victim in the case.
Judge Tentatively Dismisses Charges Against Lori Drew:
You may recall that this is the case in which our coblogger Orin Kerr (currently on leave from the blog because of his temporary government position) participated; he has written the leading law review article on the statute involved. Here's a brief excerpt from an L.A. Times blog:
A federal judge tentatively decided today to dismiss the case against a Missouri woman who had been convicted of computer fraud stemming from an Internet hoax that prompted a teenage girl to commit suicide.
Lori Drew of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., was convicted in November of three misdemeanor counts of illegally accessing a protected computer.
The decision by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu will not become final until his written ruling is filed, probably next week. Wu said he was concerned that if Drew was found guilty of violating the terms of service in using MySpace, anyone who violated the terms could be convicted of a crime....
Drew 50, was to be sentenced in May but Wu had delayed the sentencing until today, saying he wanted to consider the defense motion to dismiss the entire case.
A federal jury convicted Drew in November of the three misdemeanor charges but deadlocked on a felony conspiracy charge that would have carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison....
Orin's detailed post on the subject -- from before he decided to work on the case -- is here; it's very much worth reading.