INTERNET LAW - An Example of Interstate Cybercrime & Prosecution

IBLS Editorial Department
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Most cybercrimes tried in the United States have dealt with violation of purely federal statutory law; and therefore, they have been conducted in federal courts. Yet, a recent 2008 criminal case emerged as one of the first criminal case involving a typical state criminal case but because of the forum it was conducted- the Internet- it implicates Interstate commerce and federal law. This attempted murder case was originated on the Internet; involves two state jurisdictions; concerns electronic evidence and online advertising. The case relates to a murder-for-hire Internet plot. The indicted person, a Michigan resident, published an online advertising in Craiglist.org in an attempt to recruit someone to murder a California resident. The accused woman was arrested and a grand jury in California indicted her with 3 counts, including attempted murder and the use of Interested commerce- the Internet- with the intend to kill someone.

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Most cybercrimes tried in the United States have dealt with violation of purely federal statutory law; and therefore, they have been conducted in federal courts.  Yet, a recent 2008 criminal case emerged as one of the first criminal case involving a typical state criminal case but because of the forum it was conducted- the Internet- it implicates Interstate commerce and federal law.  This attempted murder case was originated on the Internet; involves two state jurisdictions; concerns electronic evidence and online advertising.  The case relates to a murder-for-hire Internet plot.  The indicted person, a Michigan resident, published an online advertising in Craiglist.org in an attempt to recruit someone to murder a California resident.   The accused woman was arrested and a grand jury in California indicted her with 3 counts, including attempted murder and the use of Interested commerce- the Internet- with the intend to kill someone. 

Although the facts of this case resemble those of a Hollywood movie script, they also exemplify the type of cases law enforcement and criminal courts will absolutely face in the near future: the use of the Internet and online advertisement as tool to commit common law crimes.  In this case, the indicted person, a 48-year-old woman, married and residing in Michigan held an Internet affair with a married man residing in California.  Even though the couple physically met in some occasions, their romance was mostly conducted through electronic and telephonic communications.   One November 2007, this Michigan woman decided to place an online advertising on Craiglist.org titled 'freelance' employment.  Three persons responded to the Michigan woman Ad. and they were offered US$5,000 plus ‘expenses" to murder her Californian lover's wife.  Luckily, these three individuals went to the police instead of going to California. 

On January 24th this year, the Michigan woman was arrested after charges were filed before the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, CA.  The FBI is the law enforcement authority completing the file against the accused.   On February 5th, the defense attorney won a two-week stay in this case, which allows this Michigan woman to remain in Michigan and possibly enter a plea bargain with prosecutors.  The defense attorney is trying to avoid the transfer of his client to California.  

This case involves many intriguing legal issues.  First, jurisdictional issues as to where this attempted murder trial should be conducted.   Since the case was investigated by the FBI and federal charges were filed, the case can be heard both in California and Michigan District courts.  Attempted murder cases are usually heard by state courts.  Yet, this case involved interstate commerce means- the Internet- so the case stayed in federal court.  Second, the largest part of the evidence in this case is composed of electronic communications (mostly e-mails) held between the accused and her lover.   This involves issues as how the FBI obtained those e-mails and whether they were obtained directly from the Internet Service Providers- ISP.  In the U.S., law enforcement authorities may subpoena ISP to obtain e-mail communications when conducting criminal investigations.  Third, the use of an online advertisement to recruit ‘silent assassins' (as the Michigan woman told the individuals who replied to her Ad.) raises questions about how to prevent these type of advertisement.   Craiglist CEO said that Craiglist is an "inhospitable place for felonious activity and an unwise choice for would-be criminals" because this online classifieds company provides a trail of electronic evidence for any subsequent investigation and the company is vigilant of their users.  

This exemplifies how common criminal law cases are being transferred to the cyber world and how the FBI and local law enforcement units are ready to prosecute those engaged in cyber crime, no matter how many jurisdictions are involved.   

IBLS Editorial Department

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