There Oughtta Be a Law

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Federal prosecutors are twisting the law into all sorts of nifty shapes in order to levy charges against Lori Drew, the Missouri woman who posed as a teenage boy to tease and torment Megan Meier, a nemesis of her daughter’s. Meier, you may remember, committed suicide as a result.

Drew is an awful person, and clearly needs some psychological help. But come on. If what she did is a crime, then the millions of people who’ve ever fibbed on a MySpace or Facebook profile have committed crimes, too. All this proves is that the federal criminal code is vast and vague enough that no matter what you’ve done, some politically ambitious U.S. attorney hungry for some publicity can figure out a way to charge you.

Meanwhile, the Missouri legislature is responding to the Meier tragedy by contemplating a bill that would make it a crime to be mean to someone–and a felony for an adult to be mean to a minor.

Guess what, folks? Sometimes really, really awful things happen. They just do. It’s time we accepted that, and stopped looking to pass reactionary laws or invent crimes to pin on someone every time a sad story hits the Internets.

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19 Responses to “There Oughtta Be a Law”

  1. #1 |  Jeff | 

    I love how we as a society, instead of having the logical reaction of working to remove the stigma against seeking help when you’re being bullied or have suicidal thoughts, decide that we have to fight the problem using blatantly unconstitutional legislation. Anything to prevent a little much-needed introspection, right?

  2. #2 |  Nando | 

    Yes, this is ridiculous. So the woman violated Myspace’s terms of service, so what? You know how many TOS I’ve violated in the last week alone? Nobody has killed themselves due to it (that I know of), but laws are meant to punish actions, not the consequences of those actions.

    While it is sad that this teenager took her own life, it is also true that she was taking anti-depression medications (which INCREASE the risk of suicide in teens) yet this angle is given no press. Go figure! I guess it’s the drug of American society to always have to find someone to blame OTHER than the “victim.”

  3. #3 |  UCrawford | 

    There were a number of stories about this in the KC Star and even though what the lady did didn’t break any laws, the community still considered it a crime held her accountable. She was shunned, she received death threats and last I read it looked like she was going to have to move because all of her neighbors had turned on her (I think that some businesses had refused to serve her). So just because the law doesn’t cover every horrible thing that we do doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

    As for the feds, I think they just see this as an opening to push speech regulation on the Internet.

  4. #4 |  matt | 

    Isn’t this one of the reasons tort law was invented?

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    “…Meanwhile, the Missouri legislature is responding to the Meier tragedy by contemplating a bill that would make it a crime to be mean to someone…”

    If I lived there, I would be so fucked. Sometimes people (primarily republicans and democrats) mistake my fervent good nature for rabid sadistic meanness.

  6. #6 |  Windypundit | 

    Although…

    (6) Without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person’s response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person.

    …doesn’t that describe a lot of what cops do? It would be pretty cool if you could use when some self-important cops gets in your face about something.

    Oh, wait,

    3. This section shall not apply to activities of federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement officers conducting investigations of violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law.

    Yeah, wouldn’t want to keep cops from inflicting emotional distress on people…

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #6 Windypundit
    Yeah, wouldn’t want to keep cops from inflicting emotional distress on people…

    Yeah, that would be just as ridiculous as expecting cops to obey the same laws as everyone else.

  8. #8 |  Robert | 

    I don’t know, shouldn’t intentionally attempting to drive someone to suicide be punishable somehow? I’m not saying that was her goal, but that seems to be what they want to charge her with, and I can’t see how trying to manipulate someone into killing themselves (especially an emotionally driven impressionable teenager) shouldn’t be a crime.

  9. #9 |  Edintally | 

    I’m suing everyone here for hurting my feelings!!!!

    I’m rich bitch!!

    (Balko I’m gonna need a list of all your visitors)

  10. #10 |  Frank | 

    This is great. Be nice to a kid and get arrested as a potential child molester. Be mean to a kid and get arrested for being mean to a kid.

    Is this nation fucked up, or is this nation fucked up?

  11. #11 |  Below The Beltway » Blog Archive » Question Of The Day: Should This Be A Crime ? | 

    [...] Radley Balko agrees: Drew is an awful person, and clearly needs some psychological help. But come on. If what [...]

  12. #12 |  CC | 

    Yeah, this disturbs me.

    I can’t think of a non-skeezy reason for an adult to pretend to be a minor online for the purpose of decieving actual minors. I could live with that as it would be much less restrictive and still make lawsuits against Lori Drews a little easier.

    But the proposed laws are much worse.

    CC

  13. #13 |  CC | 

    Sigh. “I could live with a law against that.” Not enough coffee today.

  14. #14 |  UCrawford | 

    CC,

    I can’t think of a non-skeezy reason for an adult to pretend to be a minor online for the purpose of decieving actual minors.

    There certainly wasn’t one in this case. The lady apparently did all this over some rumor that the girl (who was friends with her daughter) was saying mean things at school about her kid so she decided to “pay the girl back”…basically just high-school level bullshit that only complete losers would get sucked into as an adult. She apparently knew about the girl’s mental issues too, which made it particularly nasty behavior on her part…so she pretty much deserved the derision and shunning from the community (although not the death threats, of course).

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,315823,00.html

    So there’s not really a reason to prosecute her under a bunch of horseshit charges that are quite obviously going to be abused to go after law-abiding folks on the Internet in the very near future.

  15. #15 |  leTerrassier | 

    I’m pretty sure emotionally abusing a mentally ill girl until she kills herself should be a crime, but can’t this be covered under a current criminal or civil law? Like a wrongful death suit, or second murder, or something? It just seems weird that the fraud and emotional abuse of a known mentally ill child isn’t covered by a legitimate law. Methinks the prosecutor just likes to have fun making up her own.

  16. #16 |  UCrawford | 

    leTerrassier,

    Civil suit would probably work, but I don’t see any way to legislate against what this woman did criminally without severely infringing on everyone else’s rights.

    Did she kill the girl? No. Did she force the girl to kill herself? No. Did she physically assault or batter the girl? No. All she really did, when you look at it objectively, is make the girl feel bad about herself…which is childish and reprehensible, but not particularly criminal. As much as it sucks, Megan Meier is the one ultimately responsible for killing herself. The community’s just punishing Lori Drew for being an insensitive, rotten person, which is what this case really merits because being an insensitive, rotten person in itself isn’t a crime.

  17. #17 |  Pamela | 

    there are alot of mean people out there, unfortunately. Manay of them are disguised as Suburban Soccer Moms. But they are really just mean assholes. The punishment is that this woman will have to live with what she did for the rest of her life. She knows what she did. Even if she is in denial for a few years, that will eventually turn into a much more sinister destruction of the soul, no doubt, especially as she sees her own daughter grow. It will turn rotten to the marrow. Why punish the rest of us? She will get her just due without new laws. I’m a Mom, I know.

  18. #18 |  Nick T | 

    I agree, Radley.

    This woman is scum. And I think it’s easy to say that berating and demaning an emotionally fragile teen should be a crime, but the problem is imagining the format and breadth of such a law. It would be begging to be abused by prosecutors, and probably wouldn’t be limited to fraudulent or misleading comments, or to teens, or to people with mental health issues.

    This case is perfect for the case-by-case justice of tort law, and indeed such concepts already exist in tort (not sure if available in MO). Tort law could look at the specific consequences, and the specific disgustingness of her acts and dole out an appropriate punsihment without making it any more likely that an outspoken and agitating community member is pursued criminally for writing critical yet somewhat nasty letters to her least favorite nanny-statist politician (or something like that).

  19. #19 |  Bronwyn | 

    I don’t know, Pamela. Sometimes I wonder if people like Lori Drew have even a shred of a conscience. What little I saw of her once this broke the news was far from reassuring. The woman is frighteningly cold and self-important.

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