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Megan Meier MySpace suicide case in the news again

In Law Scoop

5:52 am on Tue, 09.29.09

The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has filed a notice that it is appealing a judge's decision to throw out the criminal conviction of Lori Drew, the St. Charles County woman convicted in connection with the Megan Meier MySpace suicide. (Click here to read Media Post story on the appeal.)

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and expert on computer law, writes on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that the notice of appeal doesn't necessarily mean that the case will be appealed. The solicitor general's office in Washington would have to approve the appeal, and that hasn't happened as yet.

Kerr wrote that an appeal may be unlikely in light of a recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly interpreting the federal law under which Drew was charged -- the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The 9th Circuit, the court that would hear an appeal in the Drew case, gave the law a narrow reading at odds with the expansive one that the federal prosecutor in California had used in the Drew prosecution.

The 9th Circuit's decision involved a company's suit against a former employee accusing him of continuing to obtain information from the computer system after leaving the company. The 9th Circuit wrote: "The Supreme Court has long warned against interpreting criminal statutes in surprising and novel ways that impose unexpected burdens on defendants."

That's essentially the reason that U.S. District Court Judge George Wu set aside a jury verdict convicting Drew on three misdemeanor computer fraud counts. Wu ruled that the use of the law against Drew "runs afoul of the voice-for-vagueness doctrine." (Read the Beacon's story on Wu's decision.)

Drew helped create the fictitious MySpace profile of a boy named "Josh," who at first flirted with the 13-year-old girl and then said the world would be a better place without her -- a message sent shortly before her suicide.

The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles made the novel claim that Drew violated the federal hacking law by violating MySpace's terms of service in creating the false profile and then using it to inflict emotional distress.

Internet law experts have criticized the government's use of the law to prosecute Drew. At the time that Wu set aside the convictions, St. Louis attorney Mark Sableman of Thompson Coburn, said, "The prosecutor had to reach too far to find a basis" for prosecution. "Criminal law has to give citizens fair notice of its reach, and no citizen would reasonably believe that signing up with MySpace could allow a prosecutor to bring criminal charges over any conduct that arguably violated MySpace's terms -- especially considering the vague ... nature of many of those terms."



 

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