Court of Appeals Approves Prosecution of Man for Reading Estranged Wife’s E-Mail Without Her Authorization

I blogged about the case a year ago, and now there’s an appellate court decision in it, People v. Walker (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2011). An excerpt:

[T]he charge against defendant arises from his alleged unauthorized access to the password-protected email account of his estranged wife, Clara Elizabeth Walker, from July 2009 through August 2009. At the preliminary exam, Clara testified that she filed for divorce from defendant on June 5, 2009, and that defendant had been served with the divorce papers by July 2009. Clara and defendant continued to live in the same home through August 2009. During this time period, Clara had a personal email account through Gmail and another email account through Yahoo. Clara never shared her passwords for these email accounts with defendant, nor did she ever give defendant permission to access those accounts….

Clara testified that she used a computer that defendant bought her for her use. Defendant set up the computer for her, but Clara set up the Gmail and Yahoo accounts herself. Although Clara had previously written passwords in an address book, she has not used the address book for passwords in many years and never provided defendant with those passwords. Clara testified that she had never written a pass code for defendant on a sticky note, and that she allowed defendant to use her computer only when it needed a repair. Defendant had two computers of his own at home, and Clara did not know the passwords for defendant’s computers….

[D]efendant argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to quash the charge alleging unauthorized access of a computer, MCL 752.795….

[T]here was evidence that defendant acted without authorization when he accessed his estranged wife’s Gmail account. Defendant’s wife testified that her Gmail account was a personal account and that she never shared her passwords for the account with defendant or granted him permission to access the account. Further, she allowed defendant to use her computer only when it needed a repair. Defendant admitted to the police that he accessed his wife’s Gmail account by guessing her password. These facts support a reasonable inference that defendant lacked authorization for his access of his wife’s Gmail account….

[Moreover,] the prosecutor presented evidence that defendant acquired, altered, damaged, deleted, or destroyed property or otherwise used the service of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network. Defendant used the services of Gmail when he gained access to his estranged wife’s account, viewed her emails, and printed them to distribute to a third party. Further, by viewing, printing, and distributing the emails, defendant acquired his wife’s property, i.e., her password-protected emails containing restricted personal information or other tangible or intangible items of value….

Contrary to defendant’s argument, nothing in the statutory text suggests that spouses, estranged spouses, or parties to a divorce proceeding are immune from prosecution under the act.

The case can therefore proceed to trial. Thanks to Michael Smith for the pointer.