Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Georgetown Law invited Yung to interview an alumnus. Yung thought his interviewer was rude. Georgetown rejected Yung's application. Yung launched a cyber-campaign, creating fake obituaries for the interviewer’s wife and son, social-media profiles and blogs in the interviewer's name, containing KKK content and bragging about child rape. A Google search of the interviewer’s name revealed thousands of similar posts. In reports to the Better Business Bureau, Yung accused the interviewer of sexually assaulting a female associate and berating prospective employees. Impersonating the interviewer’s wife, he published an online ad seeking a sex slave. The interviewer’s family got hundreds of phone calls from men seeking sex. Strange men went to the interviewer’s home. The interviewer hired cyber-investigators, who, working with the FBI, traced the harassment to Yung.Yung, charged with cyberstalking, 18 U.S.C. 2261A(2)(B) & 2261(b) unsuccessfully challenged the law as overbroad under the First Amendment. Yung was sentenced to prison, probation, and to pay restitution for the interviewer’s investigative costs ($70,000) and Georgetown’s security measures ($130,000). The Third Circuit affirmed the conviction. A narrow reading of the statute’s intent element is possible so it is not overbroad--limiting intent to harass to “criminal harassment, which is unprotected because it constitutes true threats or speech that is integral to proscribable criminal conduct.” The court vacated in part. Yung could not waive his claim that the restitution order exceeds the statute and Georgetown suffered no damage to any property right. View "United States v. Yung" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted some, but not all, of Relator's requested relief in his petition for a writ of mandamus ordering Donna Crawford, an inspector with the Trumbull Correctional Institution's office of institutional services, to produce public records that Relator had requested, holding that Relator was entitled to some of his requested relief.Relator, an inmate, sent public-records requests to Crawford, the prison's custodial of inmate-grievance records. Crawford sent some, but not all, of the requested documents. Relator then brought this action seeking a writ of mandamus and an award of statutory damages under Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(C)(2). The Supreme Court partially granted relief and awarded Relator $1,000 in statutory damages for Crawford's failure to respond fully to one request, holding that Relator met his burden to plead and prove facts showing that he requested a public record and that Crawford did not make the record available. View "State ex rel. Ware v. Crawford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Relator's request seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the public-records officer for the Ohio Adult Parole Authority (APA) to produce records that Relator claimed to have requested under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, holding that Relator was not entitled to the writ.In his mandamus action, Relator alleged that he sent a public-records request to the APA's public-records officer seeking public records from the personnel files of six Ohio Parole Board members who were members of the panel for Relator's parole hearing and that the officer had not responded to his request. The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding that because Relator failed to provide evidence to demonstrate that he delivered the alleged public-records request to the APA at all, Relator was not entitled to relief in mandamus. View "State ex rel. Griffin v. Doe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part the application of Charles Summers for court costs, attorney fees, and statutory damages following the Court's grant of a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to produce documents to Summers, holding that Summers was entitled to an award of court costs.This case concerned Summers's request for public records relating to his son's criminal case. Summers sent the requests to Respondents - Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Fox and Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey. When court-ordered mediation resulted in Summers receiving some, but not all, of the documents that he had requested the Supreme Court granted his writ of mandamus in part and denied it in part. Summers then filed his petition for an award of court costs, statutory damages, and attorney fees. The Supreme Court held (1) Summers was entitled to court costs; (2) Summers's status as the prevailing party in his mandamus action did not entitle him to an award of attorney fees, nor was he entitled to an award of bad-faith attorney fees; and (3) Summers was not entitled to an award of statutory damages. View "State ex rel. Summers v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Former Georgia police sergeant Van Buren used his credentials on a patrol-car computer to access a law enforcement database to retrieve license plate information in exchange for money. His conduct violated a department policy against obtaining database information for non-law-enforcement purposes. The Eleventh Circuit upheld Van Buren's conviction for a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), which covers anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access,” 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2), defined to mean “to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.”The Supreme Court reversed. An individual “exceeds authorized access” when he accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer (files, folders, databases) that are off-limits to him. Van Buren “access[ed] a computer with authorization” and “obtain[ed] . . . information in the computer.” The phrase “is not entitled so to obtain” refers to information one is not allowed to obtain by using a computer that he is authorized to access.“Without authorization” protects computers themselves from outside hackers; the “exceeds authorized access” clause protects certain information within computers from "inside hackers." One either can or cannot access a computer system, and one either can or cannot access certain areas within the system. The Act’s precursor to the “exceeds authorized access” language covered any person who, “having accessed a computer with authorization, uses the opportunity such access provides for purposes to which such authorization does not extend.” Congress removed any reference to “purpose” in the CFAA. On the government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer may have violated the CFAA. View "Van Buren v. United States" on Justia Law

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Corley was convicted of three counts of sex trafficking of a minor. Corley subsequently sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning his own case. The Department of Justice withheld 323 pages of responsive records, including “the names, descriptions and other personally identifiable information” of Corley’s victims, invoking FOIA Exemption 3, which authorizes withholding of certain materials “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3). The “statute” relied upon was the Child Victims’ and Child Witnesses’ Rights Act, which restricts disclosure of “information concerning a child [victim or witness],” 18 U.S.C. 3509(d)(1)(A)(i).The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The Child Victims’ Act qualifies as an Exemption 3 withholding statute and covers the records Corley seeks. The Act provides that “all employees of the Government” involved in a particular case “shall keep all documents that disclose the name or any other information concerning a child in a secure place” and disclose such documents “only to persons who, by reason of their participation in the proceeding, have reason to know such information.” Corley sought the documents not as a criminal defendant but rather as a member of the public. The protections apply even though the victims are no longer minors. View "Corley v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Kimball was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking, weapons, money-laundering offenses, soliciting murder, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment plus 15 years. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In April 2020, Kimball sought compassionate release, asserting that there were extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting compassionate release because he is at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 based on his age (67) and medical conditions (hypertension, heart problems, high cholesterol, and gout) and that the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed in favor of release.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting Kimball’s argument that the time he has already served—approximately 17 years—is sufficient to serve the section 3553(a) goals because his offense did not involve any “actual violence” and he is statistically unlikely to re-offend based on his age. The court noted that when it affirmed his effective life sentence, he was the “undisputed kingpin and mastermind” of a “massive cocaine-trafficking conspiracy.” The district court’s order noted that its decision rested at least in part on the section 3553(a) factors; courts may deny relief under those factors “even if ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reasons would otherwise justify relief.” Even if the district court “mistakenly limited itself to the commentary’s list of extraordinary and compelling reasons," that would not entitle him to relief. View "United States v. Kimball" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that certain materials requested and received by the office of the district attorney for the Suffolk district from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) related to a fatal shooting by federal and state law enforcement officials were exempt from disclosure under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(f).After Usaamah Rahim was killed, the district attorney opened an investigation into his death, aided by various materials provided by the FBI. Plaintiff later filed a public records request seeking documents related to Rahim's death. When the district attorney refused to provide access to the FBI materials Plaintiff sued the district attorney seeking a declaration that the FBI records were public records that must be produced under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 66, 10. The judge granted summary judgment for the district attorney, concluding that the FBI materials were not public records. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the FBI materials qualified as public records under the public records law; (2) the materials were not exempt from disclosure under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(a) but some materials qualified for exemption under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7(f); and (3) the remainder of the materials must be remanded to determine whether exemption (f) applies. View "Rahim v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Rad and others were charged with acquiring penny stocks, “pumping” the prices of those stocks by bombarding investors with misleading spam emails, and then “dumping” their shares at a profit. Rad was convicted of conspiring to commit false header spamming and false domain name spamming under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7701(a)(2), which addresses unsolicited commercial email. The PSR recommended raising Rad’s offense level to reflect the losses inflicted on investors, estimating that Rad realized about $2.9 million in “illicit gains” while acknowledging that because “countless victims” purchased stocks, the losses stemming from Rad’s conduct could not “reasonabl[y] be determined.” Rad emphasized the absence of evidence that any person lost anything. Rad was sentenced to 71 months’ imprisonment. The record is silent as to how the court analyzed the victim loss issue. The Third Circuit affirmed. DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), which renders an alien removable for any crime that “involves fraud or deceit” “in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.” The IJ and the BIA found Rad removable.The Third Circuit remanded. Rad’s convictions for CAN-SPAM conspiracy necessarily entail deceit under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The second element, requiring victim losses over $10,000, however, was not adequately addressed. The court noted that intended losses, not just actual ones, may meet the requirement. View "Rad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying Appellant's request for a writ of mandamus against Governor Mike DeWine, holding that Appellant failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence a clear legal right to the requested relief and a clear legal duty on the part of the Governor to provide it.Appellant, an inmate, sent a public-records request to the Governor requesting certain documents. Appellant later filed this action seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the production of the documents. The court of appeals denied the writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where the evidence showed that the Govenor's office satisfied its duty to make the records available by sending them to the correctional institution at which Appellant was an inmate, Appellant was not entitled to his requested relief. View "State ex rel. Ware v. DeWine" on Justia Law