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United States v. Matusiewicz

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 26, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID THOMAS MATUSIEWICZ et al., Defendants

For David Thomas Matusiewicz, Defendant: Edson A. Bostic, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dina Chavar, Federal Public Defender's Office, Wilmington, DE.

For Lenore Matusiewicz, Defendant: Kenneth C. Edelin, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Kenneth C. Edelin, Jr., Esq., Philadelphia, PA.

For Amy Gonzalez, Defendant: Jeremy Gonzalez Ibrahim, LEAD ATTORNEY, Chadds Ford, PA; Jeremy H.G. Ibrahim, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Jeremy H. Gonzalez Ibrahim, Chadds Ford, PA.

For USA, Plaintiff: Edward J. McAndrew, Jamie M. McCall, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Shawn Weede, U.S. Attorney's Office, Wilmington, DE.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Gerald Austin McHugh, J.

I. Introduction

Amy Gonzalez stands indicted for cyberstalking and conspiracy in connection with the murder of her sister-in-law Christine Belford. Because the federal statute which criminalizes cyberstalking involves instrumentalities of communication, by its very nature it invites questions as to whether it impermissibly punishes protected speech.

Defendant Gonzalez has moved to dismiss the indictment,[1] arguing that " as applied to Amy Gonzalez, the cyberstalking statute (Title 18 U.S.C. § 2261A) violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because it is overbroad." Motion to Dismiss the Indictment as to Amy Gonzalez 1. The Motion further contends that the statute " is unconstitutionally vague and violates the defendant's due process rights under the Fifth Amendment in that the statute does not give notice as to what specific conduct is unlawful." Id. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

II. Summary of the Indictment

The Government's Indictment against Amy Gonzalez and two co-conspirators, David Thomas Matusiewicz and Lenore Matusiewicz, alleges that they engaged in a prolonged campaign to surveil and harass David Thomas Matusiewicz's ex-wife, Christine Belford. According to the Indictment, David and Christine had divorced in 2006, and a court awarded the parents joint custody of their three children. In 2007, David Matusiewicz and his mother Lenore kidnapped the children and fled to Nicaragua. Authorities returned the children to Christine Belford, and in 2009, David Matusiewicz pled guilty to parental kidnapping and bank fraud. In 2010, the Delaware Family Court terminated David Matusiewicz's parental rights. The Indictment alleges that " [a]fter the commencement of federal criminal proceedings against him," David Matusiewicz began making accusations that Christine Belford sexually abused their children. Indictment ¶ 10. In terminating his parental rights, the Family Court did not find David Matusiewicz's accusations of abuse to be credible.

The Indictment alleges that from 2009 to 2013, David Matusiewicz, Lenore Matusiewicz, and Amy Gonzalez conducted their campaign to surveil and harass Christine Belford. It accuses the Defendants of acts that include posting accusations against Christine Belford online, sending accusations against Belford to the school that one of the children attended and Belford's church, and soliciting their friends' assistance in visiting Belford's home to monitor Belford. In 2013, David Matusiewicz, his father, Thomas, and Lenore Matusiewicz travelled to Delaware for a family court hearing. At the New Castle County Courthouse, Thomas Matusiewicz shot and killed Christine Belford and her companion on February 11, 2013 and took his own life.

The Indictment does not charge any of the Defendants with the murder of Christine Belford or with conspiracy to commit that murder. Rather, the Indictment charges the Defendants with offenses related to their alleged surveillance and harassment. Specifically, the Indictment charges Defendants with violations of the federal interstate stalking statute, 18 U.S.C. § § 2261A(1), 2261(b) & 2, the federal cyberstalking statute, 18 U.S.C. § § 2261A(2), 2261(b) & 2, and conspiracy to violate those statutes--offenses that in this case could carry a penalty of life in prison.

III. Federal Cyberstalking Statute: 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)

Congress passed the original version of the statute at issue in this case in 1996. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 § 1069, Pub. L. 104-201, 110 Stat. 2422 (Sept. 23, 1996). The original version prohibited physical stalking that placed a victim in reasonable fear of physical injury. Id. It has since been amended to include a prohibition of " cyberstalking," and the relevant text now reads:

Whoever--
(2) with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that--
(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A); or
(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), ...

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