District Court Judge Rules Evidence of Suicide Admissible in Lori Drew MySpace Case
By Leocadie Welling – Edited by Nicola Carah
United States v. Drew, 08-CR-582
On November 14, 2008, Judge George Wu of the District Court for the Central District of California indicated at hearing that he would admit evidence of 13-year-old Megan Meier’s suicide at the upcoming trial of Lori Drew. Judge Wu further indicated that although he was admitting the evidence, he would issue a jury instruction specifying that the case against Drew is not about Meier’s suicide and that Drew is not charged with causing the suicide.
Drew is charged with conspiracy and with three counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, after creating a fake MySpace account, purporting to be a teenaged boy. Drew, along with others, contacted Meier through MySpace, befriending the girl and eventually entering into a “relationship” online. Drew subsequently broke the relationship off and Meier committed suicide shortly thereafter. On Monday, November 10, Judge Wu indicated in pretrial conference that he was inclined to exclude evidence of Meier’s suicide on the grounds of lack of relevance and potentially prejudicial effects on the jury. On Friday November 14, after hearing counsels’ arguments, Judge Wu ruled that the evidence was admissible. No order has yet been issued explaining Judge Wu’s reasoning.
The Citizen Media Law Project hosts court documents. For background on the case, The New York Times featured a summary of the events leading up to Meier’s death in November 2007 and the WSJ Law Blog has posted several items on the subsequent case.
The AP covers Judge Wu’s decision to admit evidence of Meier’s suicide, reporting that he said he was convinced many jurors would already be aware of the suicide from news reports or a recent Law & Order episode that contained similar facts.
GW Law professor Orin Kerr, wrote in May in favor of granting Drew’s motion to dismiss the case. He argues that the that the CFAA’s criminal prohibition against accessing a computer “without authorization” should not be interpreted as extending to instances of individual violations of a website’s Terms of Service. Professor Kerr has since joined Drew’s defense team.
Concurring Opinions wrote a piece in May largely agreeing with Kerr’s conclusion but slightly diverging in its reasoning, and wrote recently arguing that the case should not be going to trial. Simple Justice also covers the recent ruling to admit the evidence.