DETROIT — A Rochester Hills, Mich., man faces up to 5 years in prison — for reading his wife's e-mail.
Oakland County 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.
Using her password, he accessed her Gmail account and learned she was having an affair. He now is facing a Feb. 7 trial. She filed for divorce, which was finalized earlier this month.
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 and nationally recognized expert 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 percent of divorce cases involve some snooping — and gathering — of e-mail, Facebook and other online material, Lane said. But he added that those are generally used by the warring parties for civil reasons — not for criminal prosecution.