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Florida Judge Upholds Conviction By Defining "Email" To Include IMs

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the arguing-semantics dept.

412

Bennett Haselton writes "The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of Michael Simmons, who sexually a solicited a 13-year-old girl (really a sheriff's deputy) via instant messages. What was unusual about this case was that he was convicted under a Florida 'harmful to minors' law that was specifically written to cover only e-mail."

Simmons was also convicted under a different law against luring a minor via the Internet, and there seems little doubt that he violated that law. But the harmful to minors law is separate; it prohibits "transmission" of data that is "harmful to minors", and includes the clause: "(b) 'Transmit' means to send to a specific individual known by the defendant to be a minor via electronic mail."

I think that how one reacts to this decision is basically a litmus test for how much one cares about the rule of law. The state legislature obviously would have included instant messages in the statute if they'd thought about it at the time, especially if they thought that someone would later try to use that as a loophole to escape conviction. And if Simmons had gotten off, the legislature almost certainly would have amended the law to include instant messages. But it's hard to argue with the fact that the law as written was limited to e-mail, and did not cover the instant messages that Simmons sent.

Justice Peggy Quince, writing unanimously for the Supreme Court, acknowledged this objection but answered it by arguing, "To the extent that the term 'electronic mail' is not sufficiently defined by the statute, we interpret it as including both email and instant message communications sent to a specific individual." But what was her basis for saying that "electronic mail" was not sufficiently defined in the first place? She also wrote in a footnote on page 11, "We agree with the First District's interpretation of 'electronic mail' as including both email and electronic mail sent by instant messaging." The phrase "electronic mail sent by instant messaging" sounds like something Ted Stevens would say.

But Justice Quince won't be subject to the same ridicule as Ted Stevens, and she knows it. It's not as if many people will come forward to criticize the court's decision, only to be attacked with cries of "Either you're with us, or you're with the terrori -- I mean, the child molesters!" However, she could have taken a stand in favor of the rule of law, by saying that Simmons clearly didn't violate the law against transmitting harmful to minors material by e-mail, and if the legislature wants the law to cover IMs, they have to go back and change it. (It's not as if he'd walk away with a clean record, since he'd still have a conviction for luring a minor for sex.) It is discouraging that neither the District Court nor any of the judges on the Florida Supreme Court chose to take that stand.

Ironically, this court decision may partly help the ACLU and other groups when they challenge other state laws that prohibit the communication of certain types of material "by e-mail" -- they could argue that the definition of "e-mail" is unconstitutionally vague. If the judge peers down at them and says "What the hell are you talking about? Everybody knows what e-mail is", the ACLU can argue, "Not necessarily. The Florida Supreme Court thinks that it includes instant messages. And, Your Honor, since judges are the wisest beings in the universe, if even they can't figure it out, what chance do the rest of us have?"

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I'm #1 (2, Insightful)

WarpSnotTheDark (997032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932686)

That's what happens when the people who write the laws don't understand the technology the new law governs. #1

Re:I'm #1 (4, Insightful)

Fozzyuw (950608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933704)

Hmmm... interesting politically moral question.

Do we do what's right with regards to justice?

Or do we do what's right with regards to (legal) policy?

I would side with the judge and say this law should include IM's and any electronic communication, VoIP, blogs (MySpace), etc. However, this does leave open the attack for a different case, where it's not as obvious or the crime is not as heinous, to be exploited in the same regards... think RIAA.

I think this is a situation where one has to weight the seriousness of the crime against the importance of the law.

This makes me think of the case in Wisconsin [channel3000.com] where 2 guys saw a picture in the newspaper of a 21 year old girl who recently died in an accident. They thought she looked pretty so they went and bought some condoms and dug up her grave. They where caught at the cemetery, before anything could come about, but since there were no laws on the book, they couldn't stick any charges to these guys.

This is a situation, again, where the law should be capable of proper punishment of these people and not just some petty crime because 'there was nothing on the books specifically'. In a perfect world, we would all agree and we wouldn't need written laws because we could just file things case by case, but that's just not realistic.

Cheers,
Fozzy

What's the difference? (-1, Troll)

gasmonso (929871) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932692)

It's all just a series of tubes...right?

http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]

Re:What's the difference? (3, Insightful)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932792)

On a serious note, what is the difference? In essence aren't you still transmitting words for communication across the Internet?

Re:What's the difference? (1)

bhsurfer (539137) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933310)

The fun part about being on a slippery slope is that you get where you're going (whether you want to be there or not) a lot faster. Yes the essence is similar, but the trend toward broadly interpreting law to include elements or activities not specifically addressed is alarming. At least it is to me.

Re:What's the difference? (2, Interesting)

rblancarte (213492) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933652)

So in other words, if you find some loophole in the law, it is OK to solicit 13 year olds?

While I am generally all about internet freedom etc, I think that this is an acceptable means of interpretation. I get that the law itself was not meant to cover things like instant messageing, but I think in a case like this, it really doesn't matter, it is all about the same - internet communication.

Again, as possed in the article, it really comes down to, which is better and/or right:
To have a very narrow law (only e-mail) and then through interpretation expand it to include similar types of communication (instant messaging).
-OR-
Have a broad law that already includes everything (all internet communication).

While I agree that both have up and down sides, I think that the former of those two is better. If we allowed criminals to get away with things like using AIM to get young children, just because it is not explicitly spelled out in the law, then we are failing as a law making society.

Also don't forget, it is the judcial branches job to interpret the laws, so making this interpretation could be considered well within his rights.

RonB

Re:What's the difference? (1)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933846)

That is logically invalid. Email implies transmitting online (E -> T) and IM implies transmitting online (I -> T), but you cannot determine E = I from that. Sorry, try again.

What about slashdot postings? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16932744)

Would they count?

Oh, sorry, not many females around here, don't bother.

How does that work again? (5, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932750)

Since judges can decide that 'e-mail' is vague enough to consider any and all forms of electronic message transmission covered by that term, somehow laws that specify 'e-mail' are somehow delegitimized?

I think you've painted yourself into a corner with that argument.

Re:How does that work again? (4, Insightful)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933062)

Since judges can decide that 'e-mail' is vague enough to consider any and all forms of electronic message transmission covered by that term, somehow laws that specify 'e-mail' are somehow delegitimized? I think you've painted yourself into a corner with that argument.
Actually, the stronger issue is that companies are required to maintain e-mail records for X number of years - in case of court cases, audits, etc. This ruling now makes companies accountable for maintaining IM traffic (and possibly other similar data) as well. THAT will be of grave issue.

Re:How does that work again? (1)

Meagermanx (768421) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933140)

I thought there was a certain format email messages had to have, and a certain way they were sent and recieve among servers. Isn't that how you define them?

Note: I clearly do not know what I'm talking about.

Re:How does that work again? (3, Interesting)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933484)

I thought there was a certain format email messages had to have, and a certain way they were sent and recieve among servers. Isn't that how you define them?

That's how geeks would define it. SMTP, POP, RFCs.... But the law was talking about electronic messages sent to a particular person. That definition includes IMs. I don't see that as much of a stretch myself.

Re:How does that work again? (5, Insightful)

cultrhetor (961872) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933508)

Just because e-mail isn't defined by legal statute doesn't mean that this judge was wrong: e-mail does have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is generally recognized as the lexicographic index to the English language.

e-mail (noun):
1. messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network
2. the system of sending messages by such electronic means

(verb) 3. To send such a message or use such a system.
That sort of definition would almost have to include IMs and messages posted to a message board or newsgroup, wouldn't it?

Re:How does that work again? (1)

Raistlin77 (754120) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933714)

That's a rather broad definition, don't you think? It would seem to be a more appropriate definition for say e-messaging than e-mail.

Re:How does that work again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933750)

exactly, id be pushing for relief under the rule of lenity.

Probably right (1)

mallardtheduck (760315) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932794)

The judge probably did the right thing. The man was still attempting to socillicit from an underage girl over the internet, who cares excatly which communications protocol was used?

The decision was definiately in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.

Re:Probably right (4, Insightful)

spellraiser (764337) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932962)

This only goes to show how stupid an futile it is to create special laws for the Internet. Solicitation of minors, or any other communication, is just that, no matter what medium is used to convey it.

Re:Probably right (1)

mgessner (46612) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933290)

You put into words what I was thinking very well.

The intent of the individual involved was clear, so I'm wondering what difference it makes if he'd used a telephone, instant message, email, or IRC.

Re:Probably right (4, Insightful)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933072)

The judge probably did the right thing. The man was still attempting to socillicit from an underage girl over the internet, who cares excatly which communications protocol was used?

I do. If you take the time to look up the millions of obscure laws written half in Latin, the least you should be able to expect is that the law be enforced as written. This guy was already guilty of violating a different law and their was no reason why another "on the internet" law should have been applied.

The difference is between living in a state where people are ruled by laws and living in one where people arbitrarily enforce their beliefs upon you. Just because you agree with the beliefs in this case does not make it any less wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right, and that is exactly what is being done here.

Re:Probably right (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933396)

I understand where you are coming from-- "we are a society of laws and not men".

Realistically, ever since we were founded as a nation, our lawmen have made interpretations of the law to let go people they felt would not be a problem (or who had power... or who they liked... or who was a relative) and other interpretations to stop criminals and dangerous people (and those in groups they didn't like... or with a skin color they didn't like... or who they personally disliked).

Where you are coming from is the "ideal" however and you could point out their hypocrisy when they enforced the law unequally and it bothered them. Lately- the people in power seem to have less and less problem with shame and hypocrisy. They do what they want and when you catch them (perhaps because so many have been caught) they just smile and say "so what- try to do something about it".

It flows from the top and our current political and corporate executive branches are really bad about these kinds of behaviors.

Re:Probably right (1)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933758)

their was no reason why another "on the internet" law should have been applied.

I'm sure if you ask the legislators responsible, they will unabashedly say the reason was "to punish them more than before." More charges = higher score.

Re:Probably right (1)

finkployd (12902) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933110)

The decision was definitely in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.

I'm glad the guy was convicted, but this is still a dangerous road to go down. What other technical concepts can a judge stretch and break to get the desired result in court?

The fault partially lies with the legislature for writing a law which is limited to email (did they specify RFC 2821 or something?) which really should hold true no matter what communication protocol was used. Why is email special? Technology moves many time faster than the speed of legislation (usually this is a good thing) so they really ought to stick to referring to concepts and no implementation details when writing laws.

Finkployd

Re:Probably right (2, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933272)

I agree with you that the judge was "clever" to misinterpret the law to catch a scumbag.

However... this is from the post right above yours:

Actually, the stronger issue is that companies are required to maintain e-mail records for X number of years - in case of court cases, audits, etc. This ruling now makes companies accountable for maintaining IM traffic (and possibly other similar data) as well. THAT will be of grave issue.

The rule of unintended consequences is in full effect. For example, in my great state of texas, the DA has "misinterpreted" the law so that people with crackpipes are felons instead of misdemeanors (sp). The end result is a $59 *million* dollar a year bill for incarcerating them- an estimated $250 *million* dollar bill for new prisons because the misinterpretation means we have a lot more felons than we used to. An entire *class* of minor criminals who will now basically be *forced* into lives of crime since as convicted felons they are going to find it very hard to find work and they will be well "educated" while in prison by the hard core felons.

The United States currently incarcerates people at a higher rate than soviet russia did. Most of it over drug issues and a growing number over sex offenses.

The problem is that as we are getting better and better at tracking and detecting crimes- it's becoming clear that *MANY* people engage in criminal activity in their teens and twenties- they just used to get away with it or it was put down as youthful hijinks.

Re:Probably not right (1)

blueskies (525815) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933746)

Why not charge him soliciting an underage girl then instead of changing the definition of email?

Next time i hope they charge someone who actually used email but sent it to an 18 year old girl. Then he can redefine 18 to mean 17 and charge him under the same law. I mean why let these guys slip by, just because the girl had a birthday the day before.

Re:Probably right (2, Interesting)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933776)

The decision was definiately in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.
I don't even know that this is really bending the law. Mail is just a system of sending messages, and so instant messaging definitely qualifies as "electronic mail" in the general sense of the term. Some instant messaging services even save messages on central servers to be delivered when the recipient is available -- in that case, even the function of the instant message is essentially the same as e-mail. Does the law actually specify the protocol being used, or does it just leave it at electronic mail?

I'll bet (5, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932818)

You won't hear social conservatives crying "activist judges!" about this one.

Re:I'll bet (2, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933548)

That's because this is a bad example of judicial activism. The job of judges is to clarify what law means and apply it.

If the judge had decided that the law didn't apply, not because it specifically mentioned e-mail, but because the judge in question thought it was morally reprehensible that someone was going to jail for engaging in online sex/attempting to meet with a 13 year old. Then, cited foreign law to back him/her up, that would be judicial activism as practiced by the US Supreme Court and lesser courts.

I agree with the judge (5, Insightful)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932832)

Often in the court system, these legal loopholes (be they ill-defined laws or what have you) allow criminals to go free. The judge took common sense and applied it, something judges are allowed to do, as lawyers try to circumvent the law by defeating it with specifics. Kudos to intelligent decision-making, and it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence".

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932872)

Correspondence implies a two-way communication. Perhaps you meant solicitation?

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

crossmr (957846) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933092)

I think a judgment like that should be made on condition. The condition being the legislature sees an immediate problem with the wording of the law and fixes it. You get a free pass on spirit the first time. If the law isn't clarified, you don't. Otherwise just make a law "If you do anything bad you goto jail!" the spirit of it is obvious, but the scope is ridiculous.

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933454)

Interesting interview with Warren Buffet last night.

He said he specifically avoids sending a detailed code of conduct and ethics to his executives because he believed that would encourage them to look for loopholes in it. Instead he just says something like you did above like "you are responsible for the good name of the company. Don't do anything that would damage it."

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

quigonn (80360) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933764)

Please learn about the concept of teleological interpretations of laws. Simply put, if the law says, "sex offense against minors in emails", you can come to the conclusion that the spirit and purpose of the law is to protect minors from sex offense via personal electronic communication, which makes it not only apply to email, but to instant messaging as well. Unfortunately, there is no good Wikipedia on this topic in English, so I can only refer to the German article, which describes the different forms of interpretation in a nice fashion: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auslegung_(Recht) [wikipedia.org]

Re:I agree with the judge (5, Insightful)

finkployd (12902) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933206)

it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence".

Why even specify that? It is illegal to solicit a minor for sex, it does not matter if you do it with email, carrier pigeon, or two plastic cups on a string. What makes email, or even electronic correspondence special?

There would be a lot less loopholes if legislatures would stop trying to be clever and writing laws for specific implementations of technology (which will always out pace them) and just stick to the concepts of what is illegal and what is not.

Finkployd

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933386)

I'm intrigued by your ideas, would like to subscribe to your newsletter =) Seriously though, government (not just the judicial branch) would function much more smoothly if people simply applied common sense to everyday problems.

Re:I agree with the judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933790)

That makes sense until you understand that loopholes empower lawyers. Then suddenly you realize why there are so many of them.

Re:I agree with the judge (2, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933504)

Apparently it's also illegal to solicit an adult for sex if they happen to type "I AM OWNLY THIRTEEEN LOL!". Shall we discuss Thoughtcrimes now?

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

finkployd (12902) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933682)

Apparently it's also illegal to solicit an adult for sex if they happen to type "I AM OWNLY THIRTEEEN LOL!". Shall we discuss Thoughtcrimes now?

So what is your suggestion to fix this? Throw out all "intent" based laws and require that a 13 year old actually be raped before catching someone who is clearly trying to do so?

Maybe we should make it perfectly legal for someone to walk into a bank and shout "nobody move this is a robbery" so long as they do not actually take any money off the premises.

Finkployd

They're not trying to be clever, (2, Insightful)

aussersterne (212916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933658)

they're pandering to an idiotic electorate that is excited by sensationalist news. They pass laws addressing email specifically probably in response to some news story or series of news stories on local media. They do it just so that in the next election cycle they can say "And I fought to protect your children from having to receive email solicitations from online predators!"

The electorate, of course, loves this kind of "skewering the latest boogeyman" by legislators and will vote early and often for those that pass the most specific, most draconian laws.

Re:I agree with the judge (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933936)

The laws have been written in specific contexts this way for centuries. It's nothing new.

In my state, the crime is still a crime (soliciting sex from a minor), but there are additional penalties assessed if the crime occurs over Internet. The crime by itself is punishable by a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $4,000; do it on the Net and it becomes a crime punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Big difference.

The Florida statute is probably similar. The crime is still a crime, and the guy goes to jail regardless of whether we call it e-mail or instant messaging. It's just that if they get to call IMs 'e-mail,' then the stiffer penalty kicks.

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

jrm228 (677242) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933222)

I'd like to agree in this specific case too. However, if IM = e-mail one could argue that it's a corporate record and therefore needs to be recorded and retained for X years.

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

Tmack (593755) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933278)

Often in the court system, these legal loopholes (be they ill-defined laws or what have you) allow criminals to go free.

Often, maybe, but not in this case, even if they did find for the defendant on this particular charge... he was already busted for soliciting a minor. What this is about is that the court did not throw it out due to "email" being very poorly defined. Because of that, these is less of a chance that it will be changed. Yes the judge noted the poor definition, but at the same time, allowed for the law to be bent. Had this pedo been let off on this charge, it would have lit a fire under someones ass to get the law fixed, making it harder for others to attempt to bend it in this same manner.

Tm

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933720)

Yes, the system is broken, very very broken.

I'd rather see one person stand up and do the right thing at some point in this process, than to see it passed off in the hope that someone else would fix the problem.

More than that, I'd like to see the system fixed. Pedantry at the expense of common sense...how did we let things go so far?

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

SnowZero (92219) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933482)

I don't see the problem either. Laws are meant to be interpreted by a judge. They can appeal it if they don't like it.

The exact medium is now has become irrelevant, considering that automatic gateways exist between email, text messaging, IMs, and html (webmail,web im). Online is online, and in particular, IMs with delayed delivery (ICQ,AIM), and websites with accounts and "personal messages", can function exactly like traditional email. I don't see why someone should get off the hook for any non-RFC-conforming email message: "The message was missing required headers, therefore it was not email, and you must acquit."

Much of the progress in modern social government is due to judges willing to think beyond what legislatures are willing to consider. I am not a huge fan of the legal system, but congress/legislatures are much worse. The judges are almost always better informed when they make decisions compared to legislators when they pass laws.

I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933568)

and it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence".

Thats why I use snail-mail for all my pederasty needs

Re:I agree with the judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933698)

That's a tough call. I would have to agree that right decision was made in a 'moral sense' if you will, but not in a logical nor ethical sense. You can't just ad-lib the law. If the law says 'orange' you can't just substitute 'apple' even if the law should have clearly said 'fruit'.

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933712)

The judge took common sense and applied it, something judges are allowed to do
Huh? Since when can judges extend the scope of a law through the use of common sense? The judiciary should act as a restraint on the legislature.

it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence"
Correct. And until then, only e-mails should be used as criteria for conviction under the law.

Interpreting the law is one thing (and I favor a pretty broad definition of interpret). But I don't think the answer is to allow judges to extend the scope of any restrictive law -- that should be reserved solely for the legislature.

Re:I agree with the judge (1)

bugnuts (94678) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933916)

Common sense is not. You might agree with the result of the judge's decision, but that's immaterial. Laws are written to be unabiguous, and when distant interpretation is allowed, especially by someone that doesn't understand the technology, you get a bad law enforced poorly. That compounds the problem.

For example, you claim it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence". wtf does that mean?
Virtually all telephone conversations are electronic correspondence. Walkie-talkies are electronic correspondence. Watching cable-TV is electronic correspondence. Hopefully that is sufficient to demonstrate how dangerous it is to allow random interpretation.

The judge was wrong in this case. You agree with the end result, but anyone that can see the slippery slope should be terrified to agree with the judge.

Florida: Beautiful Weather, Harsh Penal System (1)

SketchyBitch (626964) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932882)

Yes... all instant messages are e-mails just like all Canadians are French... riiiiiiight.

Privacy laws cover IM too then? (1)

RenHoek (101570) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932888)

In most countries standard mail is protected by law for privacy invasion. In a lot of countries email is also covered by the same protection. Can we add IM's to it then?

Although if email and IM's are basically 'any electronic communication', why not put the phone under it as well?

Re:Privacy laws cover IM too then? (1)

locallyunscene (1000523) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933176)

If he had gotten off because the judge had decided email and IM's weren't synonomous then it would have been news. INAL but judges can't change bad laws, just interpret them correctly for the situation. Kudos to the judge for not letting technology muddle the real issue.

Re:Privacy laws cover IM too then? (1)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933694)

You only have an expectation of privacy involving a third party.

You have no expectation of privacy involving the other party you are communicating with.

IE, you tell me something on the phone you want to not be known...I blog about it, I did not invade your privacy, you told me.
You hoped I would keep it a secret, but your hopes doesnt matter

You can expect a third person to not receive your conversation, however you should expect the person you intended to communicate with to receive it, and unless you trust the person, you should no expect it to remain a secret.

Why Bother? (2, Interesting)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933932)

The only thing that should matter is the addressing capability of the medium. When I make a phone call, or a cell call, or open an IM window, or send an email, or post a letter, the messages are addressed to a specific individual or group of individuals. I expect the communication to be private. When I join a public chat room, or talk into a CB radio, or send smoke signals, or use a bullhorn from my balcony, or put up posters in the local food court, I know that my messages are not being addressed to a specific individual, or group of individuals (despite the fact that they may be intended for a specific individual, or group of individuals). They are being publicly broadcast. I expect no privacy in such communication, unless I impose it via encryption.

In short, the only distinction that should be made, is whether the communication was broadcasted, or narrowcated.

The right decision (2, Insightful)

KingJoshi (615691) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932906)

Otherwise, do you expect legislatures to start specifying RFCs? And how about when there are changes to it?

Anyhow, if you check answers.com, the 4th defintion of mail is:
"Mail or messages sent electronically; e-mail."

'Instant messages' are 'messages sent electronically'. Even if the law included 'instant messages', how specific are they to be when they define it? The judges made the right decision.

Re:The right decision (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933146)

Anyhow, if you check answers.com, the 4th defintion of mail is: "Mail or messages sent electronically; e-mail."

I'm not willing to accept that as the authoritative definition. By that definition, telephone calls would be considered e-mail. Heck telegraphs would be considered e-mail. I don't buy it.

Re:The right decision (1)

KingJoshi (615691) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933478)

But isn't that why we have judges and jury. So they can make the proper distinctions within the spirit of the law? I mean, it's bad enough that typos are causing various problems [usatoday.com] . But there has to be some leeway for the judge to go by the spirit of the law.

Re:The right decision (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933806)

But isn't that why we have judges and jury. So they can make the proper distinctions within the spirit of the law?

No we have judges to interpret what the law says, not to infer the intent of the lawmakers with regard to things they did not include. This is no different in principal to a lawmaker interpreting a homicide statute to convict someone of slaughtering cows. I mean cows are people too, right? Sure they are, the same way an instant message or phone call or paper letter is an e-mail message.

As for juries, that is a different case. They are there to interpret the common meaning of laws and decide if they apply or should be nullified. If a jury had ruled on this case, that the common interpretation of "e-mail" in that jurisdiction included instant messaging, I'd accept it, but be very suspicious about their impartiality. This was not a jury though, it was a judge basically making up laws on the spot. That is wrong, no matter how good his intentions might be.

Re:The right decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933622)

don't forget telepathy

Re:The right decision (2, Insightful)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933866)

So you're saying we haven't taken the abstraction far enough?

Makes sense to me.

How about we change it to the term 'communication'. What's the difference whether the act is in person, via snail mail, IM, email, phone, text message....And we wonder what could be wrong with our system of law. Sheesh.

The lawyers are the ones that are able to abuse the system via pedantry, but they are only acting within the confines of a system of rules we laid out for them...it's to be expected really. The real problem is the fallacy that to define law, one must be as explicit as possible at all times...this is a catch 22...Gee, I wonder why laws continue to get more verbose, more complicated, more laws covering the same or similar issues....

What's wrong with 'Murder Is Illegal', 'Solicitation of Minors Is Illegal'....etc etc...

We laid this trap for ourselves...thank god there's at least one Judge out there that gets this. Now on the the real problem, fixing the completely borked system we're currently trying to use.

Re:The right decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933588)

> "Mail or messages sent electronically; e-mail."

That's a good thing. I'm sure they would mean the law to apply to communications via internet more than anything else.
And even if not, the guy deserves to be convicted, there's no doubt about it, and other people that do something less illegal via IM's that was hoping to get out, they deserve to go down, even if it's just to get the pedo's.

interpretation is good (2, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932934)

This is why we use human juries and judges rather than literal linguistic processors to interpret the law: to allow the courts to make the judgment that, if doing something via e-mail is a punishable offense, then doing it via IM is as well. While technically different, they are effectively the same thing in this context. I'm a card-carrying civil libertarian, and love playing pedantic word games as much as any lawyer, but sometimes common sense is a good idea.

Wrong. The statue either includes IM or it doesn't (1)

SylvesterTheCat (321686) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932950)

"The state legislature obviously would have included instant messages in the statute if they'd thought about it at the time, especially if they thought that someone would later try to use that as a loophole to escape conviction."

You cannot make that assumption. Maybe they would have included IM and then again maybe they would not have. The point is that the same faulty reasoning could be applied to any other law and then the next thing you know, judges are writing law rather than the legislature. Oh, wait....

A judge's job is to interpret what IS present in the law, not to interpret what is NOT present.

"But it's hard to argue with the fact that the law as written was limited to e-mail, and did not cover the instant messages that Simmons sent."

It's not hard. It is impossible. If the legistature intended the statue to include IM, then they need to go back and amend it.

Re:Wrong. The statue either includes IM or it does (1)

PenguinX (18932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933266)

That's not necessarily true, the common definition of e-mail and the legal definition of e-mail may be very different, but I'm not a lawyer so I really don't know what it is.

Not a stretch of the imagination (2, Insightful)

andphi (899406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932968)

Despite what other posters have said about this ruling involving a Stevensian understanding of the Internet, I think the ruling makes perfect sense. Instant messaging is differentiated from email only by the speed of normal interaction. IMs, like email, are a one-to-one interaction, as opposed to open-channel chat, which is potentially a one-to-many interaction - each participant has a specific expectation about the intended recipient.

The Judge Isn't Wrong (2, Insightful)

Azathfeld (725855) | more than 7 years ago | (#16932996)

The difference between "email" and "instant messaging" is a technical one, not a difference of substance. A statute that applies to "soliciting minors via phone lines" would almost certainly also be applied to cell phones, even if there's no "line" involved. "Electronic mail", as opposed to "email", is not such a specific phrase as to disinclude electronic forms of communication that are not "email", and it would be unreasonable to expect the state to come up with a new statute every time someone writes a new program and calls it something else.

Re:The Judge Isn't Wrong (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933286)

The difference between "email" and "instant messaging" is a technical one, not a difference of substance.
True - the difference is technical, however, that is still a very large difference. While I agree that the judge is correct from the substance point of view, the technical point of view makes it a far different matter with far different reaching consequences.

For example - see my other post [slashdot.org] .

There are probably far more serious consequences of such a ruling too, and because of that Judges have to take into account both the substance/spirit AND the technical aspects of the laws they are ruling on. In this case, that technical aspect makes a major change in a lot of laws that affect pretty much every company all of Florida, if not the entirety of the United States as well.

Some cases differences are substantive (2, Informative)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933428)

You can argue the case if the instant messaging system is a store-and-forward system that allows a delayed pickup of the message. Phone-texting and many internet-based IM systems work this way.

Not all instant messaging systems act this way. IRC lacks delayed pickup, and IRC's DCC mechanism is not a store-and-forward system.

If the message in question was more like ICQ than email, the lawyer should appeal.

Re:The Judge Isn't Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933596)

what if I lure a minor "holographically"? Does it come under "Electronic Messaging" too???

Re:The Judge Isn't Wrong (2, Informative)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933864)

I agree.
It is not as if the legislature restricted the law to a single email protocol.
I think the statute is ambiguous, and judicial interpretation was warranted.
There is no dispute that the communication was electronic.
This is really a dispute about the definition of "mail."
Is it really that far-fetched to interpret "mail" as including all messages?

Webster's Dictionary has 2 definitions for "e-mail":
Main Entry: e-mail
1 : a means or system for transmitting messages electronically (as between computers on a network) [BROAD DEFINITION]
2 a : messages sent and received electronically through an e-mail system
[NARROW (AND CIRCULAR) DEFINITION]

http://www.webster.com/ [webster.com]

The court had a choice - a broad interpretation of "mail" or a narrow one.
It chose the broader interpretation.
That is what courts do - interpret the law.

The actual law has nothing to do with email (3, Informative)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933010)

(3) CERTAIN USES OF COMPUTER SERVICES PROHIBITED.--Any person who knowingly utilizes a computer on-line service, Internet service, or local bulletin board service to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in chapter 794, relating to sexual battery; chapter 800, relating to lewdness and indecent exposure; or chapter 827, relating to child abuse, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

Additionally, the court ruling states:

This case involves the prosecution of Michael John Simmons for luring or enticing a child by use of an online service in violation of section 847.0135, Florida Statutes (2002),

Here's the link to the Florida Legal Code [flsenate.gov] .

The fact of the matter is that the actual section of the law that he was being prosecuted under relates to the Internet in general. It could have been a series of windows messenger popup alerts and it still would have gone through under this statute because even that could technically count as an "online service."

I seriously doubt that the conviction would have been over-turned if the judge had defined email in a more limited fashion.

Re:The actual law has nothing to do with email (1)

earnest murderer (888716) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933880)

Exactly. Even if the law was explicitly about e-mail, treating the letter of the law in the same fashion a computer interprets code is not appropriate. It is important for the law to be clear, but part the judge's job is wrangling with what we are trying to do with the law versus what actually got written down.

this is probably a good thing (1)

revery (456516) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933030)

Without knowing the details of the case this sounds like a GoodThing(TM). Part of the reason why we have so many very very very specific laws is because in the recent past we have shied away from letting judges do their jobs and y'know, actually judge. Things like mandatory minimums are similar in that they an effort to remove the ability from the judge to actually judge, and in the end turn him into a sort of legal babysitter. The one thing that this sort of trend requires though, is a Congress that will actually consider impeaching a judge if he consistently shows bad judgement. It's the one check on the segment of the judiciary that serve life-long appointments without the constant need for re-election.

This is why.... (0, Redundant)

Kenja (541830) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933100)

This is why I allways solicit underage sex via carrier pigeon.

And the transcript goes like this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933126)

Wht r u wearing? I wan 2 f u. Huhuhuhuhuuhuhuhuhuhhuhuhuh.

Fine by me (1)

PenguinX (18932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933170)

The judge ruled in the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law - fine by me. Pedophiles are not a protected class.

Slippery slope? (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933180)

If IM text can be considered in the same vein as email, then this could open up any legislation which specified email to other interpretations. Let's say you have a blog concerning the campus party scene and some minor subscribes to your RSS feed in their RSS-enabled email client. If you blog about something that can be construed by someone as "harmful to minors" does this mean that your RSS feed should be classified as email and you should be subjected to this legislation?
 

Re:Slippery slope? (1)

blcamp (211756) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933356)


Well, when lawyers are involved, a law (or application of the law) can mean any single thing that the lawyer can convince 12 members of the general public that it is.

It has absolutely zero to do with reality.

word of law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933200)

The specific law should have been worded to include any kind of generic electronic and/or digital communication. This would cover both e-mail and IMs. While the judge was correct in his decision, these are the kinds of distinctions which can get a child molester off on a technicality.

Florida definition of 'electronc mail' (4, Informative)

fishybell (516991) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933226)

Well, I couldn't the exact law that the article is talking about, but most Florida laws regarding e-mail state the definition as "Electronic mail message" has the same meaning as provided in s. 668.602.

Here's the definition in 668.602:

"Electronic mail message" means an electronic message or computer file that is transmitted between two or more telecommunications devices; computers; computer networks, regardless of whether the network is a local, regional, or global network; or electronic devices capable of receiving electronic messages, regardless of whether the message is converted to hardcopy format after receipt, viewed upon transmission, or stored for later retrieval.

IANAL, but it seems pretty obvious that this should cover instant messages as well as e-mail as it does not refer to any of the RFCs for e-mail (2821, 2822, etc).

The rest of the law can be seen at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/laws/04laws/ch_200 4-233.pdf [state.fl.us] .

Thought Crime (0)

joshv (13017) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933234)

Ok, this guy needs help, but he has been convicted of thought crime, not an actual crime.

Note, that in other types of stings, the person trapped by the sting actually did something illegal. They paid money for real drugs, they paid money for guns, they paid bribes to a real politician and were caught on tape/video.

In these cases we have the novel situation where all the object of the sting actually did was transmit objectionable material to an adult, posing to be a child. But because the perpetrator held in his mind the belief that the recipient was a minor, this is a crime, according to the FL statue. The belief, his thoughts, make the crime. That's thought crime, and we should run, screaming, away from these sorts of laws.

Re:Thought Crime (1)

convolvatron (176505) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933336)

s/belief/intent

there. now its all legal.

Re:Thought Crime (1)

kmcardle (24757) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933458)

In these cases we have the novel situation where all the object of the sting actually did was transmit objectionable material to an adult, posing to be a child.
And the difference of buying drugs from a cop pretending to be a dealer is? It's not like they get to keep the drugs they buy from the undercover cops.

Calling this a thought crime is a joke. How many times did this person actually commit the crime before he was caught? This was thought translated into action. When he thinks about committing the crime and is arrested, then we've got problems.

Re:Thought Crime (2, Informative)

theMerovingian (722983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933550)


The statute states:

Any person who knowingly utilizes a computer on-line service, Internet service, or local bulletin board service to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in chapter 794, relating to sexual battery; chapter 800, relating to lewdness and indecent exposure; or chapter 827, relating to child abuse, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

This guy doesn't become guilty when he molests the child, the crime is that he attempts to seduce one whom he believes to be a minor. He can think about naked kids all he wants, but he becomes liable at the exact moment he takes an overt act in furtherance of his goal.

Re:Thought Crime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933570)

I think you're mis defining "thought crime". A thought crime would involve only you and your thoughts -- as a perfect example, what John Sharpe [wikipedia.org] did (and no, I still wouldn't let anyone under 18 near him either). This incident, however, involved someone who believed they were speaking with a minor and coaxed them into actions they should not be interested in. It's because it involves this second person that it becomes such an issue. A lot like weirdos that would phone up women and talk nasty. It isn't just a thought crime, it's assault.

Re:Thought Crime (2, Insightful)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933836)

So what? the police should have allowed him to nail a 13 year old first to make it a real crime?

This is the problem with lawyers, they try to make obvious things complicated. he was clearly trying to get with a 13 year old, there is no question about that.

The person attempted to commit a crime, he tried to get with a 13 year old (but he was a sherrif)
The person attempted to commit a crime, he tried to get with a prostitute (but she was a cop)
The person attempted to commit a crime, he tried to buy drugs (but they werent real drugs)

Re:Thought Crime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933940)

Couldn't agree more with the spirit of your post, but perhaps not the letter. IANAL, but it seems there is a difference between THOUGHTS that are kept in one's head, and ACTIONS that convey or act upon those formerly private thoughts. If you commit a crime, you may not be forced to actively testify against yourself, but your "private" journals are fair game.

What really bothers me about these cases, is that a crime may have been premeditated, but not committed. How many of us have contemplated offing W the last 6 years, only to come to our senses when reminded about Cheney? If there were legions of deputies out there in IM land impersonating government officials, working to entrap anyone making a bogus threat, would those cases be as legitimate? Is the difference that most threats would not be taken seriously, so the INTENT cannot be proven?

In this case, INTENT seems to be a given. Nevermind the fact that the suspect may be playing a harmless game, assuming the recipient is as well, or is INTENT on contact but not consummation.

IANAL, but why is the Internet any different? (1)

GauteL (29207) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933340)

Surely, whether something is illegal or not should be completely independent of your method of correspondence. If I use the internet, I am in reality doing nothing different from using the postal service, fedex, telephone or fax.

Otherwise, you just end up piling on new laws whenever some new medium is introduced.

I'm glad the judge can decide that IM or Email is irrelevant in this case, but should he have to make that call of common sense?

whine whine (2, Informative)

theMerovingian (722983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933354)


Actually, Florida statutes state:

"electronic mail message" means an electronic message or computer file that is transmitted between two or more telecommunications devices; computers; computer networks, regardless of whether the network is a local, regional, or global network; or electronic devices capable of receiving electronic messages, regardless of whether the message is converted to hard copy format after receipt, viewed upon transmission, or stored for later retrieval.

According to this definition, instant messages are clearly electronic mail in my mind. This might not jive with the typical geek nomenclature, but it is well within the realm of logic.

This issue has nothing to do with child molestation, and their decision to classify IM as email was not "fudged" to convict a single molester of an offense. Supreme Court decisions such as these create a binding precedence for all other courts in the state to follow. In FL, the law is now that IM=email, unless and until the legislature amends FL statutes to expressly preclude the Supreme Court ruling.

Not a bad decision, really. (1)

mc6809e (214243) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933358)

An instant message sent to an IP address is a bit like a postcard sent nextday air and requiring hand delivery. Sure, there's no envelope, and it doesn't end up in a mail box, but it still obviously counts as mail.

 

c i told u (1)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933418)

c i told u that emailz r prety much da same as ims i dont relly c what the diff is its just sending msgs to diff ppl way2go judge ttyl

How *do* you define "e-mail"? (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933422)

For all those of you, including the article submitter and the editor that approved the submission, who think that this is utterly insane or activist, please realize that the statute doesn't define what "electronic mail" means. What is the difference between e-mail and instant messages? If you can't clearly delineate them in a way that is so unassailable as to be subject to judicial notice [wikipedia.org] , then why do you expect (or, for that matter, trust) a judge to so delineate them?

Well done (1)

FrancescBlandino (845925) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933540)

Notice: IANAL and i'm not citizen nor resident of the USA (INCORoUSA).
      Leaving the 'protect the children' meme aside...

I think it is possible to define most of electronic based text communications under a generic term such as 'email' or 'electronic mail'. In this case, I believe, the judge did uphold the "spirit of the law". Certainly electronic communcations do change constantly: Many have shifted to IM style, which attracts mostly young people because of the inmediate response and increased interactivity between the parts.

  Laws should have the >least loopholes possible, or it gives the criminals the chance to evade justice. As I already said, electronic communications are changing forms, and the only way a law can contain a definition is by being broad (which is not necesarily a good thing) or by having judges and juries who give a resonable interpretation to it.
 

What about the parents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933554)

Here's what I don't get:

If it's really that bad for a 13 year old to be involved with an older person then why isn't there more emphasis on busting the parents. Letting a 13 year old set up an unsupervised IM account is like dropping a 13 year old off at a singles bar.

If a 13 year old is going to have access to an IM account (or myspace or whatever) then it needs to be an account that is shared by the family. It should be called smithfamily1234 rather than iluvbritney1234 and the parents need to carefully monitor who the 13 year old is talking with and what the content of the conversations is.

I could see not holding the parents responsible when some stranger knowingly sent unsolicited adult material to a child or even when an adult abused a position of authority (priest, coach, etc.). If the child has a private account and is using it to flirt with older people then the parents need to be getting as much jail time as the flirting older people.

Arrested for sending pictures to the sheriff? (3, Insightful)

kjart (941720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933604)

solicited a 13-year-old girl (really a sheriff's deputy)

I'm curious as to how this works. Based on the article, it seems as though he is being charged based solely on what occurred between him and the sheriff pretending to be a little girl.

Michael John Simmons, 47, of Spotsylvania, Va., was charged with sending nude pictures of himself to the fictitious teen

I'm sorry, but does nobody else find something wrong with this? I'm not saying that this guy didn't necessarily deserve it, but how can it possibly make sense for him to be charged for sending images of himself to a 'fictitious' person (i.e. the sheriff pretending to be a little girl). In other words, if the sheriff hadn't lied about his identity, there wouldn't have been a crime here, even if the man had done the same thing?

I'm all for stopping/getting help for people like that, but how on Earth is the above a crime?

Technicality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933646)

Ignoring this case and looking to the future, I think the legislatures should all enact laws that make it illegal to get off on a technicality. If a defendant gets off on a legal technicality where he WOULD HAVE BEEN otherwise convicted then said defendant is automatically charged with this offense - which carries a sentence twice the length of the original charges. See how many people want to get off on technicalities then.

I also agree with the judge. (1)

Afty0r (263037) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933650)

The story poster has a clear bias in his writings that reads as if he thinks the person who committed the illegal act should get away with, because the electronic messaging protocol he used was IM instead of SMTP...

This is ridiculous - should such a rule also mean people who use Outlook and Exchange be exempt from the law because they don't use SMTP to talk to each other?

"E-mail" is a term used to describe a "mail" sent "electronically" - it is not a big leap that a message sent from one computer user to another user on another system whether or not via a central server could be construed as "E-mail" - as such I would have ruled the same way the judge did... and would have done so if it were via IRC, SMS or any other electronic messaging system...

Yah, and beef is the same as cheese. (1)

agent (7471) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933710)

They both come from a cow.

Fuck the cDc! Punk bitches.
http://www.cultdeadcow.com/ [cultdeadcow.com]

parents are super-protective (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933754)

I not being observant, not judgmental here. Some of the harshest laws deal with crimes against children. Just having child pr0n on disk can get one into jail. The long running NBC Dateline series on internet predators is fascinating[*]. Just driving on the street of a sting setup gets one busted- that demonstrates serious intent. Anyone who spends time in the backcountry knows one of the most dangerous things is to get between a parent and its offspring.

Sometimes this leads to less than desirable side effects. Like zealous photo developers reporting beach pictures or naked-baby-on-bed photos. Or teachers, coaches, and clergy told NEVER to hug a youngster anymore, whether the youngster has made an amazing sports victory or bawling their head off.

[*] People like seeing bad guys humiliated, and Dateline does this to the extreme IMHO.

Re:parents are super-protective (2, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933922)

Sometimes this leads to less than desirable side effects.

      It's a statistical fact that the more sensitive you make the test, the more false positives you get. People are more touchy nowadays (compared to ancient Greece, for example), so you get quite a few cases of normal behavior labeled as inappropriate nowadays. Unfortunately such a mistake absolutely ruins someone's life - can you imagine having to live as a "sex offender"? We have to ask ourselves how far this is going to go.

Common Sense Justice (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16933828)

Wow. A judge who used judgement. Of course, the lawyer for the defendant, on appeal, will use the "IM is not email" defense. If he doesn't, he's not a real lawyer. Just remember guys, if DRM cracking tools are free speech for the cause of justice, then IM is email for the cause of justice too. Or, would you rather have lawyers file motions for the next 2 years and then send a child molester loose?

IANAL, but isn't this what judges do, to a certain extent? help clarify laws and build "case law"?

Although, ultimately, the law should be ammended to define "personal e-mail" as something like "communications directed at an address, where it is reasonable to assume that the address corresponds to one person", I wouldn't be willing to overturn a conviction on a child molester over some fine point like this.

Lay off the pedantics... (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 7 years ago | (#16933830)

""To the extent that the term 'electronic mail' is not sufficiently defined by the statute, we interpret it as including both email and instant message communications sent to a specific individual." But what was her basis for saying that "electronic mail" was not sufficiently defined in the first place? "

You ask what her basis was? The fact that only the words "electronic" and "mail" were used. There was no mention of RFCs, no mention of SMTP or POP3 or anything of the kind. All that was received from the legislature was that there is something that somehow resembles "mail," differing from regular mail in that it is "electronic." The phrase may heavily imply to you that the law must only apply to SMTP, etc, however the courts are constitutionally bound to go with what the legislature tells them to work with.

Since they're only given the noun "mail" and the adjective "electronic," it is proper to include forms of written correspondance, resembling "mail," that is sent from one point to the other "electronically," regardless of the protocols that are used.

We have a hard enough time keeping track of acronyms around here (ISA [wikipedia.org] ? DDR [wikipedia.org] ?), the best you and I have to go with is context. But the only context the courts are allowed to go by, constitutionally, is the context the state legislature has provided them in writing the laws. This is the "rule of law" you claim to be arguing in favor of.

"However, she could have taken a stand in favor of the rule of law, by saying that Simmons clearly didn't violate the law against transmitting harmful to minors material by e-mail, "

You're not arguing in favor of the rule of law, though. You're arguing in favor of the rule of law as amended by tech geek lingo, demanding that "electronic mail" be defined as you understand it rather than as the legislature understood it. Further, you are attempting to change the definition of "electronic" in "electronic mail" to mean something more limiting than what is commonly accepted [wiktionary.org] , on the basis of what can only be described as slang.
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