Tag Archives: crime

Fear of crime exception made recording phone call okay under eavesdropping statute

Carroll v. Merrill Lynch, No. 12-1076 (7th Cir. October 16, 2012)

Late in the evening on Thanksgiving Day 2005, plaintiff called her co-worker at home and started yelling profanities. The co-worker’s wife picked up another phone on the line and, becoming alarmed at the threatening nature of the conversation, began recording the call.

rotary phone

Plaintiff sued under the Illinois eavesdropping statute, 720 ILCS 5/14. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the recording was covered under the “fear of crime” exception to the statute. The lower court granted the motion for summary judgment and plaintiff sought review with the Seventh Circuit. On appeal, the court affirmed the award of summary judgment.

The Illinois eavesdropping statute prohibits recording a conversation unless all parties consent to the recording. But that general rule is subject to a bunch of exceptions, such as recordings made:

under reasonable suspicion that another party to the conversation is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a criminal offense against the person or a member of his or her immediate household, and there is reason to believe that evidence of the criminal offense may be obtained by the recording

In this case, the court held that the wife had both a subjective and objective belief that the plaintiff would, at minimum, vandalize their home. Since plaintiff introduced no evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact on the question of the wife’s asserted fear of a crime being committed, summary judgment had been properly granted.

Photo courtesy Vincent Van Der Pas under this Creative Commons license.

Facebook caused wife to stab her husband

U.S. v. Mask, 2012 WL 3562034 (N.M.Ct.Crim.App., August 14, 2012)

No doubt Facebook use can be an enemy to marriage — see, for example, this recent article about how Facebook was named in a third of divorce filings in 2011. A recent case from the military courts shows how using Facebook can put a spouse’s very life in peril.

She is yelling and is very angry.

Defendant wife became angry when she accessed her husband’s Facebook account. An argument ensued between defendant and her husband about the content of husband’s Facebook page, which escalated and turned violent. The two struggled, with defendant yanking the modem out of the wall and striking husband. She continued to hit him, causing him to back into the kitchen, where defendant grabbed a knife and stabbed husband in the abdomen, saying, “that’s what you get, mother fucker.”

Husband survived, and wife was tried and convicted of attempted manslaughter. She sought review with the Navy–Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. On appeal the court affirmed the conviction and five year sentence. It held the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the verdict, and that defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights had not been violated.

Photo courtesy Flickr user normalityrelief under this Creative Commons license.

Are nonpirate Megaupload users entitled to compensation from the government?

If I left my coat in a taxi that was later impounded because, unknown to me, the driver was transporting heroin in the trunk, would I be left out in the cold?

People who used Megaupload to lawfully store and transfer files are rightfully upset that their stuff is unavailable after last week’s raid. Some groups in other countries say they are going to sue the U.S. government. Would a lawsuit like that get anywhere in a U.S. court?

The Fifth Amendment — best known for its privilege against self-incrimination — says that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation”. (You can impress your legally-trained friends at parties by confidently and casually referring to the Takings Clause.) Does the Takings Clause give innocent Megaupload users a right to be paid the value of the files they are being deprived of while the feds use the servers on which those files are stored to prove their case against Kim Dotcom and company?

Back in 2008, Ilya Somin and Orin Kerr had a conversation on the Volokh Conspiracy discussing this question of whether the Fifth Amendment protects innocent third parties who lose property in a criminal investigation. If you read that commentary you will see that a case over the Megaupload takedown might be tough for a number of esoteric reasons, not the least of which is Supreme Court precedent.

There are some face-value problems with a case like this as well. Has the government taken the property for a “public use”? One could argue that the reason the servers (including the innocent content) were seized was for the so-called public good of going after piracy. But then the innocent content is not being “used” in connection with the prosecution — it just happens to be there.

I do not pretend to know the answers to this inquiry, and I’m relying on sharper Constitutional minds than mine to leave some good comments. (If you know Ilya Somin or Orin Kerr, send them a link to this post!) All I know is that it does not seem fair that users of the cloud should so easily be deprived in the name of law enforcement.

 

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MySpace posting was not improper character evidence at murder trial

Clark v. State, No. 43S00-0810-CR-575 (Ind. October 15, 2009). [Download the opinion]

Defendant Clark killed his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter. At his murder trial, the prosecution introduced the following post Clark had made to his MySpace page:

Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal and sees more and more everyday how many of the people, while growing up, and those who judge me, are dishonest and dishonorable. Note, in one aspect I’m glad to say I have helped you people in my past who have done something and achieved on the other hand, I’m sad to see so many people who have nowhere. to those people I say, if I can do it and get away. Bullshit. And with all my obstacles, why the fuck can’t you.

Clark was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He sought review with the Indiana Supreme Court. On appeal, the court affirmed the conviction.

One of the arguments Clark raised on appeal was that the trial court committed error when it allowed the jury to consider the MySpace posting. He claimed that it was improper character evidence under Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(b) which provides in relevant part:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

The Supreme Court held that Rule 404(b) did not apply because “[i]t was Clark’s words and not his deeds that were at issue.” The posting was “solely evidence of [Clark's] own statements, not of prior criminal acts.”

Moreover, Clark had made an issue of his character when he testified in his own defense. One theme of his testimony was that he had acted recklessly, and that had he intended to kill the victim he would have done more to conceal the crime. The court held that the bravado exhibited in the MySpace posting (in conjunction with a statement Clark had made to a detective upon his arrest, namely, “I will fucking kick your ass. I will send the Hell’s Angels to kill you. Fuck it. It’s only a C felony. I can beat this.”) was probative in that it countered his argument of “mere” recklessness.

What the Lori Drew acquittal should mean for service providers

You know the story of Lori Drew — the mom from Missouri who was accused of setting up a bogus MySpace profile impersonating an adolescent boy. Lori acted as this fake “Josh” to stir up romantic feelings in young Megan Meier who, after being dumped by “Josh,” took her own life.

A terrible thing of course. And someone needed blaming. So federal prosecutors chose to go after Lori Drew. The jury convicted her of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (the federal anti-hacking statute), but today the judge acquitted her. Seems like a good decision, as the theory on which the prosecution based its case — that Lori violated the site’s terms of service by saying she was someone other than she is and thereby exceeded her authority — was shaky at best. The big problem with that theory was that such a reading would make most of us criminals. I’m sure you don’t mean to tell me you’ve never signed up for an online service using something other than your real name or accurate contact information.

Most smart people can agree that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was not the right way to punish this “crime.” Various states have enacted legislation to handle cyberbullying and are already prosecuting people in state court. But the problem is not going to go away. People will still do foolish things on the internet.

And to the extent that foolishness is criminal, the individual should pay a criminal price. The individual.

Using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to go after this conduct put the contractual relationship between the end user and the provider (i.e., Lori Drew and MySpace) under the microscope where it did not belong. The court and jury had to scrutinize that contractual relationship and the resulting authority (or lack thereof). They had to do that because there was no other way the government was going to win a CFAA prosecution otherwise.

Focusing on that relationship in this context did not make sense. MySpace didn’t have anything to do with this other than being a passive intermediary. Why should the inquiry at trial have gone to those kinds of questions? Why should the intermediary have been bothered? It shouldn’t have.

The bad act was (I guess we have to again say “allegedly was” now that she’s been acquitted) between Lori Drew and Megan Meier. That’s the space where the factual focus and legal analysis belonged. Not in the legal relationship between Lori Drew and MySpace.

Now that we have a sensible legal outcome in this case, hopefully prosecutors will take some more principled approaches and leave the intermediaries out of it.

MySpace friend request results in criminal charges

People v. Fernino, — N.Y.S.2d —-, 2008 WL 382348 (N.Y.City Crim.Ct. February 13, 2008)

An order of protection, issued by a New York family court, required that defendant Fernino have no contact with a certain Delgrosso. After Fernino added Delgrosso as a “friend” on MySpace, she was charged with contempt of court for allegedly violating the order of protection.

Fernino moved to dismiss the criminal complaint against her, arguing that even if the allegations were true, the purported “contact” through “friending” Degrosso would not support a conviction on the charges. The court denied the motion to dismiss.

Finding that adding Delgrosso as a friend in the social networking context was prohibited “contact,” the court cited to People v. Kochanowski, 186 Misc.2d 441, 442 (App Term, 2nd Dept 2000) and People v. Johnson, 208 A.D.2d 1051 (3rd Dept 1994). In Kochanowski, the appellate court affirmed the harassment conviction of a defendant who participated in building a bogus Web site containing, among other things, alluring pictures of his ex-girlfriend. In Johnson, the court held that the defendant committed aggravated harassment by responding to a personal ad in the victim’s name, causing the person placing the ad to contact the victim.

In this case, the court observed that even though Delgrosso could have simply denied the friend request, it was still a form of contact. It found that the form of communication was no different from the defendant having a third party say to Delgrosso, “Your former friend wants to communicate with you. Are you interested?”

It should also be noted that the court cited approvingly to Wikipedia for a description of MySpace and to Alexa for information about MySpace’s popularity.

Mark Fass of the New York Law Journal has more on this case here. The MyCrimeSpace blog has its take on the case here.  Also found on MyCrimeSpace is this article from last year about a poor chap in the UK who was found to have violated a restraining order for friending his ex-wife on Facebook.