Miami-Dade Cyber Crime Defense Lawyer on Delayed Lori Drew Sentencing

June 2, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

Those looking for a harsh sentence are unlikely to be pleased by the July sentencing of Lori Drew, the Kansas City Star reported May 24. The judge in the case is still considering both the sentencing and a motion from the defense to overturn the guilty verdict for Drew, a Missouri mother who became the center of a debate on how criminal law should handle cyber crimes. But even if the verdict is not severe enough for some of Drew’s critics, the Star said, the case has already changed the law on cyber crime issues and possibly also changed the way Americans behave online.

As I have written on the Cyber Crime Lawyer Blog before, Drew was prosecuted under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating the terms of service for social networking site MySpace when she and an employee pretended to be teenaged “Josh” in order to make friends with a neighbor girl. The goal was to see what the girl, Megan Meier, was saying about Drew’s own daughter. Meier killed herself at the age of 13 after “Josh” stopped flirting and cut off communications, saying the world would be a better place without her. She had a history of depression.

No prosecutor in their home state of Missouri found a way to bring criminal charges against Drew, but federal prosecutors in Los Angeles charged her with unauthorized access to a computer network for violating the MySpace terms of service. Critics of the prosecution call this a stretch or even an abuse of the law. Ironically, the Star reported, Missouri’s harassment law -- updated in response to the case -- still probably wouldn’t apply to Drew’s actions, since her employee sent the messages. A prosecutor in St. Charles County, Missouri, where the Drew and Meier families lived, compared the case making MySpace the victim to a prosecution of a shooting in which Smith & Wesson was the victim.

As a South Florida cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I agree. Drew’s behavior was certainly unbecoming of a mother in her forties, but violating the terms of service for a Web site is not the same as hacking -- which is what “unauthorized access to a computer network” really is. Millions of people violate terms of service agreements every year; prosecuting most of them as hackers would probably create a public outcry. As Drew’s criminal defense lawyers pointed out, violating a terms of service agreement is not a crime.

However, as a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime defense lawyer, I can agree with confidence that this case has changed the law. At least ten states have passed laws against cyber bullying since the 2006 incident, and a similar federal law has been proposed, although it has come under fire for alleged First Amendment violations. While these statutes have their flaws, they help bring the law in line with the Internet. My Miami cyber crime criminal defense clients deserve laws that accurately take into account both the advances in technology and the way people really use those advances.