Michigan Man Criminally Charged After Reading Wife’s Email

In Rochester Hills, Michigan, prosecutors have brought a highly controversial case — criminally charging a man for reading his ex-wife’s emails without her permission. Leon Walker, 33, could receive five years for the common act of logging on to his wife’s email, an act of snooping that disclosed that she was having an affair with another man. This is the first known time where a spouse or ex-spouse has been prosecuted under the law without any evidence of commercial theft. Yet, the office of Jessica Cooper (left) appears to want to create new precedent that would radically expand the reach of the law.

Oakland County prosecutors are using a criminal provision designed to prosecute identity theft and the theft of trade secrets.

Leon Walker shared a laptop with his wife, Clara Walker, and accessed her GMail account. They later divorced.

Putting aside the intent behind this law, the question is one of prosecutorial discretion and frankly over-reach. We have seen the gradual over-criminalization of America where every act — great or small — has been translated into some form of crime. For a previous column, click here. If this type of intrusion is criminal, millions of people would be felons. Without some evidence of a collateral crime such as identity theft, the prosecutors should have left this to the divorce courts. My assumption is that Ms. Cooper has other crimes to prosecute in Michigan.

Source: FREEP

Jonathan Turley

30 thoughts on “Michigan Man Criminally Charged After Reading Wife’s Email”

  1. Thanks Buckeye.

    Holy @#$%, this law is so broad that I need to warn my niece at Ann Arbor there is no safe use of computer there. Not from the hackers or the crooks but from the government.

  2. Every person needs privacy even in the closest relationships. One thing that was off limits in my house growing up was Mom’s purse. No one–not even Dad–ever rummaged through it without Mom’s permission. However, on most occasions if there was something needed from the purse, you took it to Mom and she got it out of her purse for you. I adhere to that; only I have no children. I have found that my cats do not adhere to that rule, though. Also, my parents also observed that U.S. Mail only was opened by the addressee. I cannot remember any occasion when either Mom or Dad opened mail addressed to me or my siblings. Dad never opened mail addressed to Mom and vice versa. I think all families need these kinds of boundaries.

  3. From the article link:

    Leon Walker is being prosecuted under Michigan statute 752.795, which reads, in part:

    “A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

    “Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network.”

  4. Can someone cite the Michigan law at issue? Is it the IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION ACT Act 452 of 2004?

  5. Since this is not identity theft or theft of trade secrets, it seems Oakland County should have prosecuted under an anti-gossip law, if they have one, a la Mr. Assange.

    The guy charged is the third husband who discovered the wife was having an affair with her second husband, who had beaten her in front of the son of her first husband, upon which he notified the first husband who then initiated child custody proceedings.

    No doubt the woman will be materially harmed, but this law probably isn’t the one that was broken, if any were.

    “No good deed goes unpunished”.

  6. I agree with BBB that important facts are missing. The article makes reference to the EX-wife of the man charged. Questions have been raised as to how Mr. Walker got access to the password.

    They were married at one point and shared a laptop. It’s entirely possible Mr Walker knew the then Ms. Walker’s passwords and vice versa–one of the missing details. Perhaps during their marriage neither was bothered by the other accessing emails–another missing detail.

    Once divorced, however, wouldn’t that reciprocal arrangement would have been voided thus making Mr Walker’s intrusion roughly akin and just as illegal as accessing your email account or mine even if previous consent had been given within the marriage unit?

  7. Bdaman:

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  8. It is common for divorce lawyers to use legal process to harass spouses in order to get a better financial settlement.

    One way divorce lawyers do this is by getting restraining orders. I’ve heard of lawyers advising clients to smash their own face and blame it on their spouse.

    I had a property dispute with my former neighbors Kevin Bennett and Jane Bennett in Steamboat Springs, CO. Kevin Bennett was the president of the city council and he used his city powers to take over the end of Princeton Ave and build extra buildings that violated the zoning and were never put on the property tax rolls. I complained so they hired divorce lawyer Randall Klauzer.

    Randy got me criminally charged for the reason stated on the police report that I had said they were violating the constitution!!!! There was no written statement of probable cause at all and no arraignment. However, the prosecutor, Elizabeth Wittemyer, was married to a real estate developer so being on the good side of the city council president would help them make money. When I refused to plead guilty, she dismissed the charge out of court, which is prohibited by Colorado statute, and gave a press conference saying I was guilty but a trial was too expensive.

    Walker should look to the registry of action to see if there is a written statement of probable cause.

  9. anon nurse,

    this case (depending on the details: e.g. how did he got the password) could be prosecuted in Germany as a misdemeanor according to article 202a German Penal Code.

    Frankly I’m quite puzzled why a breach of postal confidentiality (a human right by the constitution, at least on this side of the pond) shouldn’t be prosecuted.

    Of course the punishment for a first time offender in a private setting here in Germany would likely be in the range of a fine of 30 day rates, something that might be called a “slap on the wrist” if you’re used to American sentencing…

  10. I haven’t taken the time to look at the relevant Michigan Statute, but here’s the Federal Statute that could apply.

    http://www.justice.gov/criminal/cybercrime/ccmanual/03ccma.html#A.

    Title 18, United States Code, Section 2701(a) provides:

    Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section whoever—
    (1) intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided; or
    (2) intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility;
    and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

    Under “Intentional Access”:

    The term “access” is not defined in this statute, but the term is discussed beginning on page 32. In a typical criminal case, in which a defendant will have logged on to a system and obtained, altered, or deleted email or voicemail, there will be no question that the defendant has accessed a facility.

  11. frank wrote:

    “I fail to see either liberal or conservative in this action but authoritarian.”

    =======

    I agree. Definitely authoritarian.

  12. Joe wrote:

    “I guess only the government and google has the right to view all our online activities…”

    ===========

    Good point. Let’s get our priorities straight. We’re in terrible trouble. The following article was written in 2007 and things are much worse now:

    Creeping Fascism: From Nazi Germany to Post 9/11 America ByRay McGovernCreeping

    Americans today are seeing the same sheepish submissiveness that characterized Germany after the burning of the Reichstag.

    “There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater … Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later …”

    These are the words of Sebastian Haffner (pen name for Raimund Pretzel), who as a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s experienced the Nazi takeover and wrote a firsthand account.

    I recently learned from his daughter Sarah, an artist in Berlin, that yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Haffner’s birth. She had seen an earlier article in which I quoted her father and emailed to ask me to “write some more about the book and the comparison to Bush’s America … this is almost unbelievable.” (end of excerpt)

    http://www.alternet.org/story/71881/

  13. Joe – other than you not liking it please identify what part of this action is ‘liberal’. I fail to see either liberal or conservative in this action but authoritarian.

  14. Absolutely ridiculous. Slap the guy on the wrist, if that, and move on. We have real problems that need to be tackled. Here’s a sobering article that reveals just how misplaced our priorities are:

    http://www.alternet.org/story/149324/america_in_decline%3A_why_germans_think_we%27re_insane?page=entire

    “Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn’t it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.”

  15. It’s this kind of liberal thinking that allows convicted murderers to be pardoned by ppl like Jennifer Granholm. When is this kind of of thinking going to used for something that actually does some good? I guess only the government and google has the right to view all our online activities…
    on a side note this guy was careless to get caught checking the email

  16. I don’t see the problem here, I check my wife’s all the time.
    I check her phone messages, her incoming and outgoing calls and text too.

    I love my wife. Ok I know, maybe I love her a little too much 🙂

  17. I agree in part BBB, but respect and privacy are key issues in any relationship and to mover step that is just wrong as hell. I share a lap top with my son but I would never think of doing that ever on any level.

  18. I think this should come down to how he obtained the password. If his wife gave it to him, or she enabled it to be cached under a username where he had open access, I don’t think she should have any expectation of privacy.

    The story is missing some important details.

  19. Well mail is mail whether its email or snail mail, its an offence to read others mail period, it falls under federal property and can get a prison term……….just wonder what he was thinking to pull that bone head stunt???????

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