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November 28, 2008

Friday forum: What sentence would you impose on Lori Drew, the MySpace bullying defendant?

Over here at How Appealing, Howard Bashman has linked to a lot of the major media coverage of the split verdict in the MySpace bullying case.  Here are the basics from this New York Times coverage:

A federal jury here issued what legal experts said was the country’s first cyberbullying verdict Wednesday, convicting a Missouri woman of three misdemeanor charges of computer fraud for her involvement in creating a phony account on MySpace to trick a teenager, who later committed suicide.

The jury deadlocked on a fourth count of conspiracy against the woman, Lori Drew, 49, and the judge, George H. Wu of Federal District Court, declared a mistrial on that charge.

Although it was unclear how severely Ms. Drew would be punished — the jury reduced the charges to misdemeanors from felonies, and no sentencing date was set — the conviction was highly significant, computer fraud experts said, because it was the first time that a federal statute designed to combat computer crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially abuses of a user agreement on a social networking site.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Ms. Drew could face up to three years in prison and $300,000 in fines, though she has no previous criminal record.  Her lawyer has asked for a new trial.

In a highly unusual move, Thomas P. O’Brien, the United States attorney in Los Angeles, prosecuted the case himself with two subordinates after law enforcement officials in Missouri determined Ms. Drew had broken no local laws. Mr. O’Brien, who asserted jurisdiction on the ground that MySpace is based in Los Angeles, where its servers are housed, said the verdict sent an “overwhelming message” to users of the Internet. “If you are going to attempt to annoy or go after a little girl and you’re going to use the Internet to do so,” he said, “this office and others across the country will hold you responsible.”

Do you think, dear readers, that a prison term should be part of the sentence Drew is given?

November 28, 2008 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

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This sounds like a slippery slope to me. If there isn't a specific law in Missouri, then I don't think Myspace's suit is a good thing. I am a mom and grandma. I'm raising my grandson, a teen. Many of his friends use fake identities on all the networking sites. If the let this precedent stand, this one case, it MIGHT be just. But, it would open the door for a type of hysteria I've seen happen before. (like the sex register). We could find this trend going towards many, many people, just seeking a personal vendetta, prosecuring somebody who entered a changed name or birthdate or even address. I taught my grandson to never enter his real address or phone on the internet. Some things he wants to go to demand an address. I told him to put an address to a place that doesn't exist. If this law stands, a child who does this could be prosecuted on this same precedent. This is how bad law gets started. Some prosecutors have way too much power and many of them use this power to further their carreers, not to apply justice. I do not think myspace should be able to get away with this precedent. Besides, what if a person uses a legitimate ID, and has cross words with another person who then runs to his closet and commits suicide? This is a slippery slope. I am sure this little dead girl was upset by this woman's mean deeds, but I am not sure she may not have committed suicide for whatever reason came along. I understand that her parents want to punish somebody for their agonizing pain, that is natural, but the law does not need to go along with them, they are distraught. Often these bad laws cause so much more pain for millions of families than they ever do any good.

Posted by: Donna Johnson | Nov 28, 2008 12:04:15 PM

http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

Yes, she, as well as her accomplice Ashley Grills, who was the actual person who sent the final message, as seen here:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,457784,00.html

Both should get a prison term for involuntary manslaughter, IMO.

If they do not set an example, then more of this will occur, and it is occurring a lot more than people might think.

Sex offenders, and even normal citizens are being harassed online by cybervigilantes, here is one court case of a sex offender being harassed, which basically amounts to a hate crime and death threats:

http://www.citmedialaw.org/threats/kruska-v-perverted-justice-foundation

Posted by: SexOffenderIssues | Nov 28, 2008 1:17:40 PM

http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

Just ask yourself this question. What would you think and say if it was your son or daughter who committed suicide because some neighbor harassed and stalked them online, and said something which caused them to commit suicide?

If you think that way, then you will probably agree with my statements above.

They deserve prison, IMO, end of story!

Posted by: SexOffenderIssues | Nov 28, 2008 1:20:25 PM

I sympathize with the victims family but the sentence fits the crime. we certialy do not need to make more things felonies. The woman should be ashamed of herself for the rest of her life!

Posted by: anon | Nov 28, 2008 3:00:16 PM

If I were the sentencing judge -- without knowing Mo. sentencing scheme, but assuming it is similar to that in most states (misdemeanors carry no more than 364/365 days & five years probation) -- I would give 270 on one count (assuming that is the standard mid-range sentence) with no probation & the statutory max on the other two, suspended, with 5 years probation, anger management & parenting classes, mental health & substance abuse evaluation, as well as 250 hours community service to be served at the rate of 10 hours a month within 30 days of release of jail. Additionally, I would impose no fines (just court costs), order forfeiture of the computer if requested by the state, and order restitution for the cost of the funeral, and other costs sought by the family of the deceased in this matter.

Posted by: anon 2 | Nov 28, 2008 4:17:15 PM

I would sentence her much the same as anon_2, except no jail, 1 year probation, and no restitution since she was convicted of violating MySpace's TOS not for the unfortunate suicide.

Posted by: UofCStudent | Nov 28, 2008 7:05:05 PM

I have to hope that this conviction gets tossed and that she serves no criminal sentence whatsoever. Being so much in the public eye however is a highly fitting punishment.

As for any civil trial, does tort law encompass conspiracy given that the main defendant evidently did not send the last message?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 28, 2008 8:20:08 PM

anon2 & UofC, you do realize that this case didn't get prosecuted in Missouri, right? It's in federal court in Los Angeles, so federal law applies. The district court could hammer her with the stat max because a death was involved, even though that wasn't part of the offense of conviction.

Assuming the convictions stand up, of course (see the Volokh Conspiracy for lots of discussion).

Posted by: JDB | Nov 29, 2008 1:27:34 PM

JDB:

I'll have my crow medium rare please. I hadn't been following the trial at all, save for top of the hour news, and never realized (and never cared to realize) that the matter was being tried by the feds.

Posted by: anon2 | Nov 30, 2008 12:04:24 AM

Saturday Night Live is a public medium that bullys people. Comedy Central bully's people. The President of the United States uses a "bully pulpit" to bully people. Bullying people is a right not a privilege. All the diet and exercise advertisements on television bully fat people. Fans in the stands bully the referees on national television. Corporal punishment of children is still rampant in America. Nuns with rulers are bullies. The prosecutor and his two assistant prosecutors who drag someone from Missouri out to Los Angelos for violating a MySpace user agreement are bullies.

As to the parents who chime in about keeping your kids safe from bullies on the internet-- keep your kids off the internet, away from the boy scouts, and well away from crack houses.
Do not send your teenager to Aruba with the rest of the peer group for Spring Break. The foregoing advice does not require an advanced degree in rocket science.

Some would say that Justice Jackson, grandstanding as a prosecutor at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, bullied Goering during cross examination. And, of course Goering committed suicide. Some others would say that Goering got the better of Jackson in that cross examination. No person can seriously say that Goering was bullied into suicide by Justice Jackson.

Where is the evidence of causation in this case? Maybe the child who committed suicide had other tormentors on MySpace, in her neighborhood, at school. Or maybe her parents who let her roam on MySpace were negligent. Or perhaps they or someone else abused her. One can not look into the mind of a suicide. One cannot always assume that one who commits suicide is a "victim" of someone else.

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