Steve Levin, a criminal defense attorney, spent ten years as a federal prosecutor in North Carolina and Maryland. He served on active duty in the United States Army as a defense counsel, an appellate attorney, and a trial attorney, and is now a military judge in the Army Reserve. His firm, Levin & Curlett, has offices in Baltimore and Washington. This column first appeared on his blog Fraud with Peril.
By Steve Levin
In 2004, the then-US Attorney for the District of Maryland famously wrote in a leaked email that he wanted three front-page indictments by November of that year. Though open to interpretation, the impression left by the poorly-drafted missive is that prosecutors should seek headlines rather than justice.
Let’s give credit to the prosecutors involved in the Petraeus/ Broadwell affair, er, matter for their exercise of sound discretion.
Assuming the accuracy of the news reports, Paula Broadwell potentially subjected herself to indictment for any number of federal crimes. In his paper entitled Computer and Internet Crime, G. Patrick Black, a federal defender in Texas, analyzes a number of cyberstalking statutes. As Black writes:
Under 18 U.S.C. 875(c), it is a federal crime to transmit any communication in interstate or foreign commerce containing a threat to injure the person of another. Section 875(c) applies to any communication actually transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce – thus it includes threats transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce via the telephone, e-mail, beepers, or the Internet. Title 18 U.S.C. 875 is not an all-purpose anti-cyberstalking statute.
First, it applies only to communications of actual threats. Thus, it would not apply in a situation where a cyberstalker engaged in a pattern of conduct intended to harass or annoy another (absent some threat). Also, it is not clear that it would apply to situations where a person harasses or terrorizes another by posting messages on a bulletin board or in a chat room encouraging others to harass or annoy another person.
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