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Online impersonation charged dropped due to loophole

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Travis County prosecutors have dropped the charges against a Cincinnati man, who was one of the first in Texas to be accused of "Online Impersonation." Closing a big loop hole in the cyber crime law will require a major reboot by state lawmakers when they return to Austin in January.

If you live in Texas, and create a website to impersonate someone else on the internet, it's a crime. But delete that charge, if the keyboard and computer, that's used, are located out of state.

It's one of the reasons why Online Impersonation charges were dropped against Adam Limle. He was one of the first to be charged with a Felony under the new Texas law. But Limle doesn't live in Austin, or anywhere in the Lone Star state. He lives in Cincinnati and a question of jurisdiction, according to Travis County prosecutor John Lopez, derailed the case.

"In this particular case, the person who supposedly did all this lived in another state none of the actions that they actually took in creating or posting or setting anything up happened in Travis County and so we don't have jurisdiction over that offense," said Lopez.

According to his Arrest Affidavit, Adam Limle allegedly created websites that portrayed an Austin woman, who he once dated, as a prostitute. Charges were filed in March. Limle denies any wrong doing and claims the woman authorized him to create the websites. He also created the websites before the Texas law took effect, which contributed to the charges being dropped. The woman, identified by APD Investigators as the victim, has no criminal record as a prostitute and told investigators she never gave Limle permission to create the websites.

"There may be some civil claims she can pursue on that end, but the actual crime is the creation of the website. If the creation happens somewhere else's, it doesn't happen here," said Lopez.

Prosecutors say they could consider pursuing misdemeanor charges, but that is doubtful. An extradition battle could prove costly for the county.

The computer crimes statute was re-written last year by state lawmakers to include recent advances in social media. But the changes did not modify where an offense is committed. A crime scene, currently on the books, is defined as "any county." Cyberspace is not addressed. The vagueness in the law creates a big legal loop hole. So, if a crime scene is limited only to an actual location in Texas, a Texas resident can be victimized by someone using a computer that's simply located out of state. 

The jurisdiction problem may also force a motion to dismiss in another Travis County Online Impersonation case. Fake twitter accounts were created late last year using the identities of an Austin woman and her daughters. Daven Nielsen, according to court documents, dated one of the women. After the charge was filed, he spoke to me by phone from his home in South Carolina. He admitted creating the accounts and also posting sexually explicit tweets. When I asked him why he created the sites, he gave me the same answer he offered investigators.

"I was bored," said Nielsen.

Providing a legislative fix could be complicated. Research on how to draft an amendment has just started.

"The internet crosses state and international boundaries and we have such a mobile society people moving from country to country state to state it's something that you could affect somebody's life in another part of the world and not set foot in that country and how do you deal with those kinds of offenses," said Lopez.

Until the issue is resolved, keyboard mischief outside of Texas can spell; motion to dismiss. The Texas law is still enforceable, as long as the accused committed at act in the state. Legislators in California, Hawaii, Mississippi and New York recently passed Online Impersonation laws.

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