Drew Case May Go To Higher Court
The prosecutor in the case has filed a notice of appeal in the controversial case, preserving its right to take the matter to a higher court. But the authorities can't follow through with an appeal without the approval of U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the central district of California said that no final decision has been made. If the government goes ahead with the appeal, it has until Jan. 25 to file its brief.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge George Wu offically set aside a jury verdict convicting Drew of three misdemeanor computer fraud counts for her role in an Internet hoax allegedly connected to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.
Drew, an adult Missouri resident, allegedly helped hatch a plan to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent messages to the teen. The messages, initially friendly and flirtatious, eventually turned hostile. The teen hanged herself after receiving a final message stating that the world would be a better place without her. Drew herself didn't send the messages or set up the account, according to the trial testimony.
Authorities in Los Angeles charged Drew with committing computer fraud on the theory that she violated MySpace's terms of service by helping to create the profile.
But Wu ruled that a criminal prosecution stemming from violating a site's terms of service "runs afoul of the void-for-vagueness doctrine."
Wu reasoned that people don't have fair notice that ignoring a user agreement can result in criminal sanctions. He also said that MySpace's terms of service are so broad that many people apparently violate them by, for instance, lying about their age on the site.
Drew's lawyer, Dean Seward, said he would be surprised if the government proceeds with the appeal because a decision from the 9th Circuit could set precedent. Wu's decision, by contrast, isn't binding on any other judges. "If the 9th Circuit agrees with us, that's going to affect a lot of prosecutions around the country," he said, adding that he was confident the appellate court would agree with Wu's decision to toss the case.
The Meier tragedy led to new "cyberbullying" laws in several states, including Missouri. There, authorities recently brought felony cyberharassment charges against a woman, Elizabeth Thrasher, who allegedly posted photos of a 17-year-old girl -- along with email address, cell phone number and place of employment -- on Craigslist's casual encounters section.