12 April 2014

Law in Plain English: United States v. Auernheimer

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Case: United States v. Andrew Auernheimer

Argument: Mar 13, 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Andrew Auernheimer ("Weev") was convicted of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by collecting the email addresses of iPad customers through an "account slurper" program.

Issues: (1) Did Auernheimer and Spitler access a computer “without authorization” under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C)?

(2) If Auernheimer was properly convicted of a conspiracy to violate the CFAA, was that conspiracy a misdemeanor or a felony?

(3) Did Auernheimer violate the identity theft statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7)?

(4) Was venue proper in the District of New Jersey?

(5) Do AT&T’s costs in mailing a letter to its customers support an eight-level upward adjustment under the United States Sentencing Guidelines? 

Holding: The Third Circuit ruled that trying Auernheimer in New Jersey, where no elements of the crime occurred, denied Auernheimer’s substantial right to be tried in the place where his alleged crime was committed. As a result, it reversed the decision of the District Court and vacated his conviction. Weev was released on Friday night to the custody of his lawyer, Tor Ekeland.

It is important to note that the Third Circuit did not rule on the CFAA in this case. Venue is a threshold issue; by deciding the venue was improper, the District Court never had jurisdiction to hear the case. Venue is a procedural matter that doesn't go to the substance of the underlying charges. That is why it is possible that Weev could likely be charged again without violating double jeopardy, see i.e., Haney v. Burgess, 799 F.2d 661 (11th Cir. 1986) (retrial of a defendant whose conviction was reversed because of improper venue does not violate double jeopardy).

Date Proceedings and Orders
Jan 13 2011 Criminal Complaint
Jun 22 2011 Plea Agreement with Daniel Spitler
Aug 16 2012 Superseding Indictment
Sep 21 2012 Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion's to Dismiss
Oct 5 2012 Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Nov 20 2012 Trial Verdict
Dec 3 2012 Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29
Mar 17 2013 Defendant's Sentencing Memorandum
Mar 19 2013 Judgment
Jul 1 2013 Appellant's Opening Brief
Jul 8 2013 Amicus Brief of Mozilla Foundation, Computer Scientists, and Security and Privacy Experts
Jul 8 2013 Amicus Brief of Security Researchers
Jul 8 2013 Amicus Brief of Digital Media Law Project
Jul 8 2013 Amicus Brief of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Aug 5 2013 United States’ Motion for a Word Limit Extension to 26,500 Words and A Stay of the Briefing Schedule
Aug 5 2013 Opposition to United States' Motion for A Word Limit Extension to 26,500 Words and Stay of Briefing Schedule
Aug 6 2013 Reply To Appellant’s Opposition To United States’ Motion For A Word Limit Extension And Stay of Briefing Schedule
Sep 20 2013 Brief of Appellee (United States)
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