Lori Drew Not Guilty Of Felonies, But Guilty Of Misdemeanors

from the twisty-laws dept

In the landmark cyberbullying case, Lori Drew was found not guilty of three felonies, but guilty of three misdemeanors. The jury is deadlocked on the fourth count of felony conspiracy. The three counts of “accessing a computer without authorization” relate to the creation of a fictitious account on MySpace that was used to engage in an online relationship with Megan Meier. This verdict is not surprising considering the emotionally charged nature of this case. Prosecutors were desperate to convict Lori Drew of something, despite the fact that she may not have technically done anything illegal. If what Lori Drew did was truly criminal, then laws need to be passed to make it that way. To twist around computer fraud laws to simply get a conviction not only sets a dangerous precedent, but it is not the appropriate way to serve justice.

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Comments on “Lori Drew Not Guilty Of Felonies, But Guilty Of Misdemeanors”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Ok, My confusion is how would this be any different then sending a threating letter via snail mail.

My understanding of the case is the Lori conspired with her dau and third person to make up a fictious profile on My Space with the sole purpose of harassing Megan Meier.

Now, whether Lori Drew can be help responsible for Megan’s actions, I understand is a problem spot.

But Lori’s actions via the computer should still be considered harrasment. The same as if she said them in person or in a letter.

And since she did this with her dau and a thrid person that makes it consipracy.

Doesn’t it?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My understanding of the case is the Lori conspired with her dau and third person to make up a fictious profile on My Space with the sole purpose of harassing Megan Meier.

From what I’ve read, that is incorrect. She (actually, her daughter and an employee, not Lori) set up a profile for the reason of learning what Megan was saying about Lori’s daughter. It wasn’t intended to harass. And, even if it was, prosecutors looked and realized that there’s nothing illegal about being a jerk.

But Lori’s actions via the computer should still be considered harrasment. The same as if she said them in person or in a letter.

At the time it happened, there was no harassment law that covered those actions. A law has since been passed, but you can’t be tried for a law that passed after the event happened.

Joey says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, you’re wrong and ignorant. This was an ADULT committing these hateful and destructive actions. A GIRL IS DEAD BECAUSE OF LORI DREW. DON’T YOU GET IT?
Maybe you’re one of those self-righteous buttwipes who wouldn’t hold anyone responsible. Why don’t you trade places with Lori The Witch Drew? Put up or shut up.

Peter says:

“but she also had every opportunity to ignore the messages that she received on myspace.”

That’s like saying it is ok for internet pedophiles to troll for kids to have sex with because they have every opportunity to ignore the messages.

Middle aged adults shouldn’t be trying to screw over 13 year old girls figuratively or literally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This 13 year old girl has parents – parents who saw nothing wrong with this “screw over” prior to their kid killing herself. Nothing wrong… or at least not enough wrong for them to get involved.

If you have a kid and you don’t take any part in the kid’s life, situations like this have the possibility to present themselves.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Analogy Police Alert

Peter spewed:

That’s like saying it is ok for internet pedophiles to troll for kids to have sex with…

That’s like saying that all I have to do is draw an analogy between what you’re doing and terrorist acts, to be able to accuse you of being a terrorist and have you sent to Guantanamo bay, no questions asked.

So how does it feel to be Osama Bin Laden, creep?

Tamara says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Analogy Police Alert

Doesn’t matter what her intent is. Men use the “Oh I wasn’t planning on having sex with her.” defense all the time. Lori preteneded to be a 16-year old boy and wanted to be a BOYFRIEND, not just a friend, but BOYFRIEND of a 13-year old. There’s no debate at all. What would you think of a 40-something man who tells you that he pretends to be a 16-year old so he can get into sexual discussions with 13-year old girls?

Mike says:

Bad parenting

Its the parents of the girl you should be outraged with, how did they not know what was going on? I know its hard to imagine having to monitor your children on the internet, but that YOUR job when you have children. We monitored our daughter the entire time she lived under our roof, and continue to monitor the two that live here now. One is 15 and really doesn’t like it, but thats our job as parents. When he decided to try to get around the monitoring software, he lost his internet connection, and soon learned its our rules, or you get nothing at all. If they maybe paid attention to what was going on this might not have happened. That said, you do realize the nasty comments that are supposed to have put this girl over the edge did not come from Lori Drew OR her daughter, but another teen girl, and if you believe people should be convicted of making fake profiles how many of you are guilty?

Tonal Crow says:

A big threat to Liberty

While what Ms. Drew did was sickening, and probably a tort (intentional infliction of emotional distress), the U.S. Attorney did his best to make it a federal crime. He prosecuted her (a resident of Missouri) in Los Angeles, for violating a statute originally intended to penalize computer hacking. As extended by his argument, this statute also criminalizes a user’s violation of a website’s terms-of-service. You read that right: it criminalizes a user’s violation of a website’s TOS.

This in a outrageous violation of Liberty. We elect legislatures to make laws. We do not elect MySpace, AOL, or (shudder!) Redstate.com to do so. Yet MySpace’s TOS is exactly the “law” that the U.S. Attorney charged Ms. Drew with violating, and that a jury convicted her for violating. Under this decision, it’s perfectly OK for a legislature to delegate to a private entity its authority to make criminal law, and for it to do so implicitly, or even unintentionally (the statute doesn’t explicitly support this interpretation).

Please pass the handcuffs; I’m feeling too free.

This case also violates the 1st Amendment, since website TOSes restrict all kinds of speech that courts previously have determined to be protected.

Finally, this case violates due process by virtually eliminating the requirement of fair notice, and by requiring a person to defend herself far from the place where she committed the charged act.

Ending creeping criminalization is high on the list of changes America needs.

saberman says:

Distortion of the Law

I tend to agree with Tonal Crow (comment 17). Or, as quoted elsewhere on the internet and in newspapers “This was a very aggressive, if not misguided, theory,” said Matt Levine, a New York-based defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “Unfortunately, there’s not a law that covers every bad thing in the world. It’s a bad idea to use laws that have very different purpose.” The prosecutors really had to twist the law a lot in order to apply it here. I hope the verdict is overturned on appeal.
That’s not to say that Lori Drew is not morally guilty of doing something very bad. But not every bad thing has to be covered by the law. But I like to look at questions like this by thinking of some examples of cases that are similar in some ways.

What if my son asks some woman for a date and after she turns him down in an insulting manner he goes off and kills himself? That would be horrible and the woman should be ashamed of herself for being so cruel. But unless my son had some mental instability that she knew about and she was deliberately using that to kill him, it certainly isn’t murder. One could try to consider that manslaughter, but usually a connection like that is considered too much of a stretch. If you kill accidently in the commission of another crime the death is often separately punishable. But the other crime generally has to be a serious felony, not something like violating the fine print on the rules for signing up for an internet account. Suppose I were to sneak into the circus without a ticket by slipping underneath the tent and my action inadvertently frightened an elderly man who then died of a heart attack. Would that be manslaughter or second degree murder? I suppose the case could be made but it would be a real stretch. But no more of a stretch than this case.

Here is another example. I sign onto an internet dating site with a retouched picture of myself. I also add a few Harvard degrees and triple my salary. I get a date with a hot young executive who realizes she has been duped and is really angry at me for deceiving her. She can sue me for the money she spent getting ready for the date. She can even try to sue me for the value of her time. But should she be able to put me in jail just for violating the terms of the dating site agreement? That would be ridiculous. But it is no more ridiculous than what they are doing to Lori Drew. Now, suppose the woman was so angry at me for deceiving her that she got into her car and drove off in a blind rage and got herself killed in an auto accident. Before she died she called up her sister and told her what had happened and gave her enough information to identify me. Am I guilty of manslaughter? In a sense, maybe. I guess one could say that my actions killed her. I behaved horribly, dishonestly, perhaps criminally. And it caused some unstable young brilliant beautiful executive to die. But, frankly, I do not think that such a thing should be prosecuted.

Perhaps we need to change the law. The law should state a narrow and strictly delimited set of conditions that would apply to egregious deception on the internet but which clearly would not apply to more trivial cases. Otherwise, many people are going to be at the mercy of over zealous prosecutors. efinitely need not fear prosecution.

Tamara says:

Re: Distortion of the Law

saberman your analogy is flawed on 2 points. Firstly Lori Drew knew of Megans mental instability. Secondly, if your son was 13 and turned down by a 40-ish year old man pretending to be a 16-year old girl in a cruel way then you have a comparison.

The whole point of the case was that we have a middle-age women pretending to be a teenager pretending to want to get with a 13-year old. Someone that she knew had psychiatric problems.

And your example of a dating site – there have been many criminal cases before for lying on profiles. Just last week in Australia a 30-year woman was convicted of fraud for telling a man on a dating site that she had cancer and needed $18,000 for treatment. He gave her the money and she used it for plastic surgery. There have been many more criminal cases where someone tells the other party they are 16(when they’re 40+) and are attempting to get with 13-year olds.

Tonal Crow says:

Re. Saberman: The act in your circus hypothetical isn’t even a tort, let alone a (common-law) crime, since there’s no element of intent or even reasonable foreseeability. The act was wrongful as to the circus, and was also possibly a criminal theft of services, but the death was a completely unforeseeable consequence. The act in your dating hypothetical is not unlike alienation of affection, a cause of action that I believe every state has abolished. That the hypothetical date managed to kill herself over it was completely unintended (and thus not a common-law crime), and not reasonably foreseeable and involved intervening voluntary acts (and thus not a common-law tort).

Law is a very powerful thing, and is easily (and commonly) abused. When we hear something ugly, and automatically respond, “There ought’a be a law!”, we should take a deep breath, step back, and think deeply about unintended consequences. And we should remember that our worst personal enemies could well become prosecutors. Finally, we might also consider why common law distinguishes between torts and crimes.

Tamara says:

Important Point

For all of those people defending Lori Drew and trying to claim that she didn’t do anything wrong, why is it that when she saw the ambulance outside the house she immediately deleted the profile of Josh and told the other 2 people involved to stay quiet and not say a word?

Doesn’t that tell you that Lori by trying to hide what she did from everyone was desperately hoping no one else found out because she knew she was responsible for the death.

You don’t have to intend to kill someone to be charged for someones death. If you’re in charge of machinery and don’t follow the correct safety procedures and someone gets killed you get charged with manslaughter. If you drink drive and kill someone you get charged with murder generally but at the very least manslaughter. If you throw bricks off a bridge at passing cars you get charged with at the very least manslaughter. None of those (except maybe the last one) would any of them been attempting to hurt(physically or emotionally) anyone. But there actions caused deaths, so should be punished.

saberman says:

Tonal Crow's and Tamara's comments

Again, I agree with Tonal Crow. My “hypotheticals” were offered as extreme cases that I did not believe should be prosecuted. I am not an attorney so I didn’t have the best way of expressing why it seemed that they should not be. It sounds as if Tonal Crow is an attorney (or otherwise knows a lot about the law) and I agree with his reasoning.

On the idea of passing a new law, I also agree but with the exception that this very case may create a precedent that needs to be addressed by a law protecting us from prosecution for signing on with inaccurate information. If such a law were to have a chance of passage it probably would have to be coupled with some kind of prohibition of lies that were thought to be very pernicious. I would hope that someone could craft a law in such a limited manner.

On Tamara’s comment, if a 40 year old woman led my 13 year old son to believe that she was a 16 year old who was romantically interested in him I think one would have to consider the overall situation. If she was really intending to incite a sexual relationship, then this would probably fall under the separate category of an adult soliciting sex with a minor. Likewise, lying on the site to extort money would fall in a separate category. But if she were doing it because she wanted to teach my son a lesson for dumping her child as a friend, I do not think it should be considered illegal. That’s not to say I would consider her actions to be good. But I would hate to live in a world in which everything that goes badly is considered a criminal offense. An important part of our freedom is the right to be an obnoxious, offensive jerk some of the time. And in rare cases an obnxious offensive jerk-like action can cause great harm. But so can a good action. I could tell a depressed person “You are really talented. You can be very successful in your life” and he can think “Look at that. He thinks I’m talented and yet I accomplish nothing. I’ve wasted my talent” and then he can go off and shoot himself. You can’t legislate against every bad outcome.

Tamara says:

Anonymous Coward Post #23 – Well tell me why I’m an idiot. You totally ignored the question. If Lori Drew didn’t do anything wrong, then why when she saw the ambulance outside the house, immediately delete the profile, contact the others involved telling them to remain quiet, mourned with Megan’s family, not saying a word. If it wasn’t for one of Sarah’s 13-year old friends that was in on the scheme breaking down and telling Megan’s family, no one would have known what Lori did. Lori did everything possible to make sure that her actions were covered up. People who do that do them for a reason. Lori knew she did something wrong, even though she refuses to admit so publicly. But all of you Lori fans are a disgrace. According you she didn’t do anything wrong at all.

If when she saw the ambulance, Lori went to Megans house, made a full account for everything she did and apologise she wouldn’t be widely despised. That would tell the world it was an accident and she deeply regrets it. Covering it up makes her look so bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

What Lori Drew did was wrong. Most people agree with that. I agree that she should be punished for it. But this is not the way. The precedent that this case could have set would be a dire threat to our liberties. Laws should not be twisted in such a manner as this. Drew’s actions were wrong, but the manipulation of the law in this case was also wrong.

Barrenwaste says:

Let's think a moment.

First, anybody who is so emotionally unstable that insults can tip them over into suicide should not be allowed any unsupervised socialising. In this regard, couldn’t the girl’s parents be charged with a felony? I’ve seen lesser crimes be pursued as neglect.

Second, if this were to be tried as a sexual offense then there would have to be sexual references on the part of the Adult. As far as I have seen, this isn’t the case. It may have been a dirty trick, but it wasn’t a sexual crime.

Third, suicide is the crime and responsibility of the person who commits the act. No matter the provocation, the choice is on the person who is comitting suicide. They decide to go through with it or not, no one decides for them. Therefore, fault of the action lies with them. If someone sells me a gallon of gas it isn’t thier fault if I use it to burn down a building. If someone insults me, it isn’t provocation for me to beat them. If those are true, how can Lori Drew be held responsible?

What Lori Drew allowed to happen was a bit of a dirty trick. That said, the child did deserve to be taught a lesson by our sociatal mores. Laws rule out physical violence, and it’s quite apparent the childs parents didn’t care, so what avenues were left? The child didn’t do anything illegal, just mean. Still, it was unacceptable behavior and deserved to be shown as such. Thier method of doing so wasn’t even that dirty, not when looked at from a step back. Our culture is rife with instances on this sort of thing, minus the suicide, and in most cases the people who observe it just nod thier heads and say the person deserved what they got.

The only reasons I can find that this is being blown up so large is because the child left a note claiming the incident as the reason for her suicide and the fact that Lori Drew, an adult, knew about it and actively involved herself in her childs activities online. And why not? There was no physical harm intended, quite the opposite. There were no sexual crimes intended, or perpetrated. Being involved as she was she could monitor her own childs behavior and see that the one that hurt her child learned a valuable lesson about how you do and do not treat people. All perfectly acceptable, if the child hadn’t committed suicide. So the main point is the girl killing herself.

Well, no matter what was said, morally and legally, she shouldn’t be held accountable for the suicide. So far they have had to twist the laws to find her guilty of anything. Now think on this. The crimes of a minor can be charged to the primary care givers. Suicide is a crime. Neglect is a crime. Libel and Slander are crimes. All more morally decrepit than insulting the neihbors kid. Hmm.

Tamara says:

Re: Let's think a moment.

Barrenwaste – Lori admits that the conversation turned sexual at times. And why did Megan deserve to be taught a lesson? You’re only taking Lori and her daughters word that Megan was saying mean things about her daughter. And what are you talking about? Megan didn’t leave a note, so why would you think she left a note saying this was the reason?

And the most important point – Lori tried to cover it up and hide what she did. It’s no different to a speeding motorist hitting a pedestrian and driving off and telling all witnesses to shut up. If he stops, admits what he did and shows remorse then it’s not as bad. But if you try to hide your actions that makes you complete scum.

Duodave says:

How can this affect...

Mike, I’m curious now. How far reaching could this be? If I use a screen name on a site, or post on Techdirt as “anonymous coward” could that be considered obscuring my identity, which apparently is now illegal?

What about the parody of Steve Jobs on Twitter (or was that Blogger?)? Everyone knows it’s not really Steve Jobs – but doesn’t parody protect anonymity?

This case is fraught with problems. Personally I see one of two things happening – either there will be no further pursuit against anonymity on sites, or the whole thing will go to a higher court and the charges will be thrown out. In fact, unless Drew really maintains her innocence, I bet the scentence will be very light and the prosecution sweeps the scentence under the rug in exchange for her not appealing.

But I’m not entirely sure because if I recall correctly, Drew doesn’t have to be the person who appeals – the EFF, for example, could appeal the ruling.

Tonal Crow says:

Un-appealing rules

This case is fraught with problems. Personally I see one of two things happening – either there will be no further pursuit against anonymity on sites, or the whole thing will go to a higher court and the charges will be thrown out.

I fear that the case will become a precedent for further misuse of criminal law to reach pretty much any conduct the prosecutor dislikes. I hope that Drew will appeal, and that the court of appeals soundly will slap down the prosecutor’s theory. There is some hope for that, since the relevant appeals court is the 9th Circuit. Of course, the prosecutor could then appeal to the Supreme Court….

In fact, unless Drew really maintains her innocence, I bet the scentence will be very light and the prosecution sweeps the scentence under the rug in exchange for her not appealing.

The last phrase is most likely. The prosecutor very much wants to preserve and extend his unconstitutional power via this precedent, so I expect him to propose some such deal.

But I’m not entirely sure because if I recall correctly, Drew doesn’t have to be the person who appeals – the EFF, for example, could appeal the ruling.

Only a defendant can appeal her criminal conviction. Another group could, however, sue for a declaratory judgement that the statute, as interpreted by this prosecutor, is unconstitutional. That’s a more difficult row to hoe, however, than a direct appeal, in part because the challenge is more abstract.

bill (profile) says:

WOW!

An overwhelming indictment of the lack of parental actions on behalf of at least Tina Meier. So many blogs run 10-1 and higher against Drew. Finally some common sense topping emotions. Folks, listen, Megan’s death was tragic to be sure. But a parent whose actions and inactions provided the opportunity for her daughter to encounter the phantom “Josh” must accept the burden in this case. She allowed Megan to join a site above her actual age and certainly well beyond her mental stability level and then encouraged her daughter to continue this cyber relationship. Depressed and on medication and she does this? I question if Tina was simply looking for someone or something to ease her burden of dealing with Megan’s problems. Yes/No to should Drew have been involved at all is a different avenue. But this DA in LA went the wrong way, conviction never stands appeal, that was the fraud here.

ike says:

If Lori Drew didn’t do anything wrong, then why when she saw the ambulance outside the house, immediately delete the profile, […]

The Original Post is about whether Lori did something *legally* wrong. I can think of a number of reasons for which Lori would do those acts that don’t indicate she’s legally wrong.

– She could have thought she did something legally wrong.

– She could have thought she did something morally wrong.

– She could have thought others would think she did something legally wrong.

– She could have thought others would think she did something morally wrong.

– etc.

Nate says:

Many of You

There are many of you here that think Lori Drew is guilty. In that reasoning then Miller and Budweiser would be responsible for any deaths by DUI or Smith and Wesson for the bullets they produce. The end result is that a girl is dead, but it is not because of a fake myspace profile, she had other issues that her parents didn’t see for whatever reason. Her parents should take some responsibility for their daugthers death. What this all comes down to is who is reponsible for the girls death (NEWSFLASH THE GIRL), nobody else. Lori Drew didn’t shoot or hang the girl, the young girl did it herself. if you are going to prosecute anyone for this prosecute the parents. Too look at this another way, all people that commit suicide are not responsible for their own death, someone else is like family and friends. When people in the United States start taking responsiblity for their own actions this will be a much better country to live in again.

John says:

Lori Drew - Computer Law

Since when is breaking into a home and committing an act of violence against someone using an electronic device isn’t a crime simply because it hasn’t been done before.

When your files in your filing cabinet are disturbed and taken by an intruder that is considered stealing. What’s so different with computers that the law officials feel they have to bring up special laws to prosecute for this type of violation???!

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