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Man faces felony charge for reading wife's e-mail

The Michigan man used his spouse's password to find out about her infidelity. If convicted, he could spend five years in prison.

December 27, 2010|times wire reports

Detroit — — A Michigan man who says he learned of his wife's infidelity by reading her e-mail faces felony charges of computer misuse.

Prosecutors, relying on a Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets, have charged Leon Walker, 33, with a felony after he logged onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife, Clara Walker. If convicted in the trial that begins Feb. 7, he could be sentenced to five years in prison.

Using her password, he accessed his wife's Gmail account and learned she was having an affair. She filed for divorce, which was finalized this month.

Leon Walker told the Oakland Press of Pontiac, Mich., that he was trying to protect the couple's children from neglect. He called the case a "miscarriage of justice."

Oakland prosecutors say the charge is justified.

Legal experts say it's the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and it might be hard to prove.

"It's going to be interesting because there are no clear legal answers here," said Frederick Lane, a Vermont attorney who has published five books on electronic privacy. The fact that the two still were living together and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer may help him, Lane said.

"I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy," he said.

About 45% of divorce cases involve some snooping — and gathering — of e-mail, Facebook and other online material, Lane said.

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