A Massachusetts law prohibits sending “any matter harmful to minors” including “handwritten or printed material.”
In other words, do not send sexually explicit messages to minors.
Except, said a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, that prohibition does not include “computer messages.”
The Court said this when overturning the conviction of a man who sent sexually explicit instant messages to a person he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, the Boston Globe reported.
The man, Matt Zubiel, was originally indicted on nine charges, including attempted rape (attempted because it was a sting operation with a female adult officer), but five of the charges were dropped, leaving the four that the court ruling tossed out.
The Court, which certainly cannot be accused of judicial activism, wrote, “If the Legislature wishes to include instant messaging or other electronically transmitted text in the definition,” then “it is for the Legislature, not the court, to do so.” Legislators have already promised to file a bill next week to repair what they called “an obvious gap in the law.”
It’s no secret that the written law is struggling to catch up with constant technological advances, though it must be said that instant messaging has been around for quite a while now. We’ve seen how courts are becoming more interested in the privacy rights relating to emails and message sent from work, as email becomes the near standard way of communicating with the outside world during the work day.
Seeing as how e-signatures are accepted for court documents, and email is generally considered as written as a letter, it would not have been out of the norm at all for the court to consider instant messages to be “written.”
But people get cut loose on technicalities all the time — the Constitution is prickly like that — and this can be considered one of those situations, even if it is a bit disconcerting.
Prosecutors and defence lawyers did note, the article said, that the ruling likely will not affect many convictions or pending cases because people who send lewd messages usually violate some other law, such as sending pornographic images or soliciting sex.
Read the Globe’s full report, with additional background information on the case and the law, here.
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