Nothing that happens on the Net is real. That's the conclusion of the attorney for a Florida teen who threatened a Columbine High School student in a chat room last month. The attorney is arguing that Michael Ian Campbell shouldn't be punished because he suffered from "Internet intoxication."
"It was a world of make-believe, a virtual world and a virtual threat," attorney Ellis Rubin told the Denver Post's Mike McPhee. "But the prosecutors are trying to make him a real criminal in the real world. Nobody is committing a crime. It was a virtual crime on an Internet chat room." On Monday, a federal grand jury in Denver indicted Campbell on one count of transmitting a threat over interstate communication lines. He pleaded not guilty the next day. After Campbell's e-mail threatened to "finish what began" at Columbine High, the school closed for two days.
Much of the press coverage focused on Rubin, which appears to be the way he likes it. The Miami Herald pegged him as "widely known for his sensational court cases." But at least he keeps up with technology: In 1977, he mounted a "television intoxication" defense for another Florida teen, this one accused of killing a neighbor. Rubin claimed the youth had watched too much "Kojak." He wouldn't discuss details of his Net intoxication defense, but he's thinking big. "I hope that we can make this courtroom a classroom where we're going to learn about the Internet, about the virtual or make-believe world," the Denver Rocky Mountain News quoted him saying.
Attorneys consider the Net-jones defense dubious. "As a watershed legal theory, Internet addiction ranks right up there with bloodletting as an established medical cure," the New York Times quoted Denver defense lawyer Scott Robinson saying. "It doesn't pass the laugh test," Washington attorney Victoria Toensing chimed in. "It sounds to me like an attorney trying to get some publicity."
With the Times' pickup bestowing national newsworthiness on the story, Rubin seemed to know what he was doing.
But Campbell may want to rethink his choice of real-world counsel. AP noted that the "Kojak" defense failed; that particular client of Rubin's was convicted of murder. In his appeal, the teen argued that Rubin had made a mockery of the defense. The appeals court disagreed.