Judge George Wu dismissed the charges today, ruling that the prosecutor hadn't proven that Drew violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act beyond a reasonable doubt. Last year, a jury convicted Drew of three misdemeanor counts of accessing a computer without authorization.
Drew was accused of violating the federal computer fraud law based on her role in hatching plans to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent hurtful messages to 13-year-old Megan Meier. Megan hanged herself after receiving a final message from "Josh" that the world would be a better place without her. Drew herself didn't send the messages, or even set up the account, according to the prosecution's chief witness, a 20-year-old who used to babysit for Drew's daughter.
No one disputes that the death was a huge tragedy, and no one seriously questions that Drew exercised poor judgment in the case.
But no matter how poor Drew's decisions, or how sad the circumstances of Megan's death, allegedly violating a Web site's terms of service doesn't constitute computer fraud. Otherwise, every Web user who has ever disregarded the fine print in a user agreement -- and that group surely includes many, many people -- could find themselves facing jail time.
Civil rights advocates, law school professors and others had raised that point with Wu many months ago, but he allowed the prosecution to proceed anyway. Perhaps he was hoping that the jury would dismiss the charges, sparing him from making the politically unpopular decision of tossing the case.
But by this spring, Wu seemed to signal that he was inclined to throw out the charges. At a hearing in May, Wu questioned the prosecutor about the government's legal theory. "Is a misdemeanor committed by the conduct which is done every single day by millions and millions of people?" Wu asked, according to The Los Angeles Times. "If these people do read [the terms of service] and still say they're 40 when they are 45, is that a misdemeanor?"