“Occupy Wall Street” Twitter User Wants to Plead Guilty, But Not Just Yet
An Occupy Wall Street protester by the name of Malcolm Harris, age 23, has had his prosecution in an upright debate about who owns social media messages, as he awaits to plead guilty in his disorderly conduct case until his attorney can fight the turning over of his tweets.
The lawyer for Malcolm told Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino that his client was ready to plead guilty. But before he did so, defense attorney Martin Stolar wanted the judge first to rule on a motion barring the prosecution from using his Twitter account information and messages at the trial.
Mr. Stolar noted afterward that this case is really about the bigger issues surrounding who owns tweets and other information disseminated through the internet. Prosecutors in the case against Malcolm Harris were able to obtain through a subpoena archived tweets Harris sent out in a three-month window surrounding his October 2011 arrest during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office makes note that the tweets showed that Malcolm knew protesting on the Bridge was illegal, contradicting statements he made that demonstrators thought they had police permission to be on the roadway. The judge had previously denied Mr. Stolar’s attempt to break down the district attorney’s subpoena that forced Twitter to provide this information. As part of that ruling, the judge made the controversial ruling that Twitter, not its users, have sole ownership over tweets and account information.
Stolar said that while he expected the judge to also turn down his latest motion, he filed it as way to protect any future appeal. “That way I can’t be criticized on appeal and the DA’s office can’t wiggle out of it by saying you never preserved it” Mr. Stolar said. In court, prosecutor Lee Langston protested that Mr. Stolar had 45 days after Malcom’s first arraignment to file such a motion and that the deadline was long past. Mr. Langston said they were recommending 10 days of community service for Mr. Harris, whose tweets, they charge, show that he and other protesters knew they were breaking the law when they protested on the bridge.
Judge Sciarrino said that if Malcom Harris wished to plead guilty to the non-criminal violation right then, he would sentence him to time served, as Malcom already spent about nine hours being processed after his arrest. Mr. Stolar said they’ll then appeal the conviction, contending Judge Sciarrino erred in ruling Twitter had to turn over Malcom’s’ tweets because he has no ownership rights over those messages, which Twitter had archived and were no longer visible to viewers of the service.
Mr. Stolar said that Twitter, which has an appeal pending on the judge’s ruling too, turned over thousands of Malcom’s tweets to the judge who, after reading them, provided numerous pages containing his tweets to the prosecutors to be used against him at trial.
Though Mr. Stolar admitted some of the tweets “could come back and create a problem” for 23-year old Malcom at trial, jail time or a criminal record are not to be of any matter in this case. Stolar ended his interview by noting that “this case is potentially United States Supreme Court material.”