“A Case that Cried Out for Someone to Do Something”Friday, July 3rd, 2009 by Harry Lewis
The conviction of Lori Drew, the mother whose ¬†Myspace impersonation of a 13-year-old boy was followed by the suicide of Megan Meier, has been set aside by the judge in the case. ¬†There being no anti-cyberbullying statute ore anything else under which she could be charged in Missouri, where she and Meier lived only a few blocks apart, a federal prosecutor in California (where MySpace is located) charged her under a federal law meant to criminalize hacking into bank accounts and credit card sites. The prosecutor reasoned that lying to MySpace on its registration form was sort of the same thing. By that standard, as we noted on this blog, everybody would be a federal criminal — especially as most social networking sites reserve the right to change their terms of service without telling you. And that is exactly the reasoning Judge Wu used in dismissing the case, even though a jury had returned a guilty verdict. You can’t throw someone in jail under an interpretation of a statute so broad that pretty much everyone would be eligible for incarceration. It’s unconstitutional.
There are legal questions here that I am sure are going to be analyzed. Would jury nullification have been a possibility here, had some juror spoken up to say that the statute was ridiculous if this is what it implied? If not that, what should the jury have done?
But the scary part is the prosecutor’s explanation for what he acknowledges was a “risky’ strategy. He heard a cry “for someone to do something,” and he responded. In other words, he thinks there are parallel universes, the universe of law and the universe of justice. His job is to figure out what’s just and to find a law that can be stretched to fit the facts. That is a really scary attitude on the part ¬†of a federal prosecutor. Lori Drew perhaps should fry in hell, but that is not the business of the temporal sphere. Missouri should perhaps rewrite its laws to make it easier to prosecute the next cyberbully, and the legislature has in fact done that. But if it were the job of the state’s attorneys to decide what is right and wrong independent of the laws, we wouldn’t need the laws at all, we could just rely on their judgment of good and evil. ¬†That’s not how democracies work.