Thursday, November 3, 2011

Case Against NJ Woman Charged With Identity Theft Via Facebook Will Go Forward

After setting up a fake Facebook profile for her ex, Dana Thornton finds herself fighting a fourth-degree identity theft charge in New Jersey courts. 

She's accused of impersonating her ex-boyfriend, and making personal statements she attributed to him -- reportedly saying he was "high all the time," had herpes, and liked prostitutes. 

The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice defines the offense of impersonation/identity theft to include "impersonat[ing] another or assuming a false identity and do[ing] an act in such assumed character or false identity . . . to injure or defraud another." Thornton tried to get the case dismissed because the statute makes no mention of electronic communications.  The judge didn't buy the argument, and on Wednesday, ruled the case will go forward.

In my opinion, this court reached the right decision.  The statute unambiguously says that assuming a false identity to injure another person is against the law -- it shouldn't matter what tools are used in the process.

Interestingly, a bill was proposed in the NJ legislature last year that (if passed) would clarify that criminal impersonation using electronic means or the internet is covered by the law.  As I told the Associated Press, amending this particular statute could complicate future prosecutions.  For example, if the legislature amends the identity theft statute to specifically say it covers online conduct, would a court later assume the state’s harassment statute isn’t meant to encompass online communications because it hasn’t been amended to specifically say so?  If this statute is revised to specifically reference online conduct, should the legislature try to amend all other laws that could be implicated in the context of online communications? 

1 comment:

  1. Megan,

    This post immediately reminded me of State of Colorado v. Weichel (2008). I'm currently enrolled in an online mass media law class through my school, Middle Tennessee State University, where we had to study the previously mentioned case.

    Weichel, a Colorado man, caught two counts of criminal libel after he posted comments on about his ex-girlfriend and her lawyer. Local newspaper, Loveland Connection, published the following:

    "The case in Loveland began when a woman approached the Loveland Police Department in December 2007 about multiple postings made about her between November and December 2007. At least one post suggests that she traded sexual acts for legal services from her attorney, according to court records. There's also mention about a child services visit made because of an injury found on her child.

    Police obtained search warrants for records from and other Web sites and identified J.P. Weichel as the suspect, the former boyfriend of the woman, who shares a child with her. In August, detectives confronted Weichel at his workplace, where police said he admitted to the postings because he was "just venting," according to the court file."

    In 2009, Weichel pled guilty to two counts of harassment and received four years probation, a five hundred dollar fine and sixty hours of community service.

    Now, if I'm not mistaken, this case caused a bit of a stir regarding the constitutionality of the Colorado libel law, Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-13-105.

    I know the case you have written about in NJ involves impersonation and mine criminal libel, but they have spoken/written falsities through online communication in common.

    Therefore, to answer your questions regarding online conduct, I believe statutes should be interpreted to cover online communications which could settle the issue at hand without the need of amendments.

    I hope, if nothing else, this engaged you. I am after all, just a student trying to figure everything out. :-)