• Nation’s first cyberbully case ends in acquittal

    Date: 07.08.09 | by Judge Tom.

    It started in 2006 when 13-year-old Megan Meier and her friend, Sarah Drew, had a falling out. They lived a few houses from each other and had an on-again, off-again relationship – not uncommon for kids of all ages.

    Sarah’s mother, Lori Drew, wanted to know if Megan was spreading rumors or talking behind her daughter’s back online. So Lori, with the help of an 18-year-old employee, created Josh Evans, a fake MySpace profile of a 16-year-old boy. Once Megan accepted him as a friend, the flirting began.

    Megan and her mother, Tina

    After six weeks of messages between them, “Josh” said she was cruel to her friends, that he didn’t want to continue the relationship, and that the world would be a better place without her. Megan was devastated and hanged herself that night in October, 2006 in her bedroom with a belt. She died the next day.

    At the time of this incident, there was no law in Missouri under which Drew could be prosecuted. Cyberbullying is a recent phenomenon and states are slowly adding electronic harassment to their criminal laws. The government instead charged Drew with computer fraud under a federal statute that exists mainly to go after computer hackers and trademark offenders. They claimed she violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by her unlawful use of a computer in creating the fake MySpace profile.

    loridrewacquittedapphoto

    Lori Drew acquitted July 2009

    In November, 2008, a jury in California, where Myspace is headquartered, found Drew guilty of three misdemeanors – violating MySpace’s Terms of Service. She was facing three years in jail and a $300,000 fine.

    In July, 2009, the trial judge overturned the jury verdict and dismissed the charges against Drew. He ruled that violating a web site’s Terms of Service was not a criminal act – otherwise millions of people could be convicted of a crime. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act did not apply to the facts of this case.

    State and federal laws and constitutions are living documents, subject to change. Neither are perfect and require constant monitoring and attention to keep up with technology and human behavior. This case is an example of bad bahavior unregulated under any law. The legal concept of ex post facto applies here – it means that you can’t make a law saying something is criminal and apply it to someone before it became a law. The government tried here to stretch a law that wasn’t written to include what happened in this case.

    For more about Megan’s case, see:¬† http://askthejudge.info/fatal-abuse-of-the-internet-by-the-parents/165/

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    • julie
      Tue, 14 Jul 2009 at 08:46

      four teen boys think ms. drew deserves ramifications-it is terribly unfortunate that no law covers this-question: one of the boys believes you can be charged if you “cause” another to commit suicide via verbal degradation, etc…… is this correct?

      Judge Tom’s response:
      Under most state laws, it takes more than words alone to be charged with causing someone’s death. A person can be prosecuted for threatening someone or harassment, violating an order of protection, etc, but not for simply being cruel.