Internet Law

Federal Judge Plans to Acquit Mom Convicted in Landmark Cyberbullying Case

A federal judge in Los Angeles reportedly has said he intends to acquit a Missouri mother accused of helping to drive a neighboring teen to suicide by participating in a hoax on the MySpace social networking site.

Lori Drew was cleared of more serious charges but convicted by a federal jury in Los Angeles last year of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization. However, interpreting the federal law under which she was found guilty in this manner, says U.S. District Judge George Wu, would mean that anyone who has ever violated a website’s terms of service could be found guilty of a crime, reports the Associated Press.

Wu’s acquittal of Drew (presumably by issuing a rare judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict) will be definite when he issues a written ruling, according to the news agency.

Prosecutors had been seeking a maximum of three years in prison and a $300,000 fine for Drew at her scheduled sentencing today.

As discussed in earlier posts, Drew was charged in the federal case after local authorities in Missouri said there was no basis for criminal charges there concerning her claimed role in communicating online with a 13-year-old neighbor under the persona of a flirtatious fictitious teenage boy. Her federal prosecution for cyberbullying under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has previously been used in hacking and trademark theft cases, is apparently unprecedented.

Drew has denied culpability, and her lawyer says she is being made a scapegoat for a crime she never committed, reports the Associated Press.

“The government’s case is all about making Lori Drew a public symbol of cyberbullying,” says attorney Dean Steward in a court filing. “The government has created a fiction that Lori Drew somehow caused [Megan’s] death, and it wants a long prison sentence to make its fiction seem real.”

Earlier coverage: (May 2009): “MySpace Hoax Sentence Delayed; Will Judge Void Verdict in Cyberbully Case?” (Nov. 2008): “Jurors Clear Lori Drew of Felonies in Landmark Cyberbullying Trial”

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