Thursday, May 15, 2008

MO Myspace case now results in federal indictment in CA: charge includes inflicting emotional distress on a minor

Lori Drew has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on one count of conspiracy and on three counts of “three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization in order to inflict emotional distress” on a minor. This refers to the impersonation of a fake boyfriend on Myspace resulting in the suicide of a 13-year-old Missouri girl in October 2006. The prosecution was brought in California, where (a subsidiary of Fox) is located.

It was not immediately apparent which specific statutes in US Code were quoted (something related to 2242 “coercion and enticement” perhaps) but that will probably appear soon in further legal stories. There could be a danger later that the legal substance of the charges is too subjective and nebulous, unless the law specifically targets falsification or misrepresentation of personal identity on the Internet or in violation of a site’s “Terms of Service”. For example, if that is so, there could be additional grounds to prosecute most spammers (but there is already a 2005 federal law prohibiting forged headers).

The actual facts about what apparently happened in the Drew household are somewhat complicated, and will no doubt come out in trial or plea bargaining.

The ABC "World News Tonight" story by Scott Michel and Mary Fulginiti is "Neighbor Indicted in MySpace Sucide Hoax; Lori Drew Faces Federal Charges for Alleged Online Hoax That Led to Girl's Suicide," link here. All major news organizations will carry some version of this story tonight.

There are earlier stories on this blog about the Drew case, and about a somewhat similar impersonation case on Long Island, New York that ended in a tragic slaying.

Linda Deutsch has an AP story on the indictment here (May 16). The maximum sentence could be five years in prison. The AP also provides a historical timeline ("Key Events") for reference (with specific dates) here.

Some legal observers on National Public Radio were saying that the indictment represents "creative use of the law" and that actual conviction of the charges sounded like a long shot.

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