As discussed in a previous post, the increasing prominence of social media coupled with the relative ease with which email and other personal communications can be accessed has permanently changed the landscape of divorce proceedings.
Couples can now use Facebook to uncover instances of infidelity, while ex-spouses can use this same technology to establish the need for a support modification. Similarly, email communications between spouses are now playing a more vital role in other divorce-related matters.
However, what happens when a husband or wife accesses their spouse’s email account without permission?
33-year-old Leon Walker of Rochester Hills, Michigan, is about to find out. He is currently facing charges under a Michigan statute for unlawfully accessing his then-wife’s email account without her permission.
According to prosecutors, Walker gained unauthorized access to his wife’s Gmail account by simply entering her password on the couple’s shared laptop computer. After reading through her emails, he learned that she was having an affair.
Subsequent to his discovery, Walker’s wife decided to file for divorce. (The divorce was finalized in early December). Interestingly, the couple continues to live together in the same household.
Walker claims that not only did his former wife give him the password to her Gmail account on a prior occasion, but that he only accessed it out of concern for their daughter’s safety. Specifically, Walker was concerned that his then-wife had been exposing their daughter to a former husband who had once been physically abusive.
The charges against Walker are being brought under Michigan’s so-called “computer misuse” statute, a law generally used by prosecutors to put the perpetrators of identity theft and insider trading behind bars.
If convicted, Walker could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
The novelty of the case has drawn the attention of legal professionals from around the nation.
“It’s going to be interesting because there are no clear answers here,” said Fredrick Lane, an attorney and author of several books on electronic privacy. “I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy.”
Lane pointed out that the fact that the computer in question was readily accessible by Walker (i.e., shared with his former spouse) and that he continues to live with his former spouse may aid significantly in his defense.
Stay tuned for updates on this case from our Ft. Worth family law blog …
To learn more about divorce, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Michigan Man Faces Felony Charges, 5 Years in Prison, for Reading Wife’s E-mail (The Los Angeles Times)