Is Snooping Through Your Spouse’s E-mail Illegal?


As any divorce attorney in Pasadena will tell you, text messages, e-mails and Facebook photos all can be used in divorce court, but snooping around your spouse's inbox could get you into serious trouble. Just ask Leon Walker. The Michigan man has been charged with a felony for hacking his wife's e-mail account. Now he could face up to five years in prison for reading his wife's personal e-mail.

Oakland County prosecutors have charged Walker with a felony using a Michigan statute usually employed to prosecute identity theft or insider trading. Walker used his wife Clara Walker's password to access her e-mail account and read dozens of personal messages. Upon reading Clara's e-mails, Leon learned his spouse was having an affair. The Walkers' divorce was finalized early this month, but the legal trouble for Leon Walker has just begun.

It's the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and according to legal experts, it might be hard to prove.

"It's going to be interesting because there are no clear legal answers here," attorney Frederick Lane told the Detroit Free Press in an interview. "The fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, may help him," Lane said.

In fact, Walker told the Detroit Free Press, "It was a family computer."

Still, prosecutors believe they have legitimate charges against Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," said case prosecutor Jessica Cooper, who noted that Clara Walker's e-mail account "was password protected."

But Leon Weiss, who represents Mr. Walker in the criminal case, believes the prosecution is way off base and that his client has been wrongfully charged.

"If the Michigan legislature had wanted to prohibit one spouse living under the same roof, with a shared computer, from reading a spouse's e-mail, they could have constructed the statute to prohibit that," he said. "There is no real expectation of privacy in e-mail," Weiss added. "It's too out there."

Now it will be up to the court to decide if Leon Walker was breaking the law when he accessed his wife's e-mail account. The pretrial is set for early in 2011.