July 24, 2008

Defense Attacks Theories in MySpace Case

By Sarah Wienke

The attorney for Lori Drew, the woman accused of harassing a teen by creating a fake online identity on MySpace, is objecting to the prosecution's argument that his client violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Drew's attorney, H. Dean Steward, filed three documents in federal court in Los Angeles Wednesday maintaining the law being used to prosecute her is unconstitutionally vague and that the prosecution has failed to state her offense.

"The terms in the statute are vague, and a reasonable person could never know whether their conduct violates the statute," Steward argues, adding that millions of people unwittingly violate the laws on a daily basis.

This is the first time that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has been used against online misrepresentations and harassment instead of computer hacking.

The case stems from fall 2006, when Drew allegedly created the fictitious profile "Josh Evans," a 16-year-old boy, and communicated with 13-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie over a period of 29 days. Megan hanged herself on Oct. 16, 2006, soon after receiving the message, "The world would be a better place without you."

In May, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Drew on a felony conspiracy charge and three charges of illegally accessing MySpace computers or intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization. She could face up to five years in prison for each count. Federal prosecutors say she violated MySpace's rules and terms of service by using false information to set an account, which she and up to four others allegedly used to harass Megan.

Steward argues that the indictment fails to allege facts sufficient to support that Drew intentionally violated MySpace's terms of service by using false information to set up an account.

Steward states that it is unconstitutional to delegate governmental powers to private parties. Under the prosecutions' argument, "almost any computer owner can set up whatever arbitrary and unique rules they want, and a violation of those rules and lead to a prosecution," he argues.

"The government, in its zeal to charge Lori Drew with something, anything, has tried to criminalize everyday, ordinary conduct," Steward charges, noting that both of the local prosecutors in St. Louis and the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis looked at the facts of the case and determined that no crime had been committed.

In a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office dated May 15, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien made the following statement about the indictment:

"Any adult who uses the Internet or a social gathering Web site to bully or harass another person, particularly a young teenage girl, needs to realize that their actions can have serious consequences."

A hearing on the case will be held in federal court Sept. 4 in Los Angeles.

Originally published by Sarah Wienke.

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