No jail time for woman accused in ID theft

By Jeff Bahr

Facing a charge of identity theft for her alleged role in creating a fake and highly defamatory Facebook profile, Dana Thornton, 41, of Belleville, was accepted into New Jersey’s Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI) on March 19.

The charge – which carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison – was quashed provisionally when Morristown Superior Court Judge David Ironson accepted Thornton into the program for a period of one year.

The case raised many questions about what is and what is not permissible in a society where electronic communications have now become the norm.

According to Morris County authorities, Thornton set up a Facebook page in such a way that it appeared to have been created by her former boyfriend – a Parsippany police detective. After creating the bogus site, she allegedly posted comments, purportedly from the detective himself, that said such defamatory things as, “I’m a sick piece of scum with a gun,” and “I’m an undercover narcotics detective that gets high every day.” The profile page also contained items about the detective “going to prostitutes” and suffering from a case of “Herpes.”

Under the rules prescribed by the program as well as those laid out by the court, Thornton will be required to meet with a probation officer regularly, successfully complete 50 hours of community service, and submit to a psychological evaluation. At that point, the outstanding charge would be dropped.

But the judge also explained that the PTI program isn’t a guarentee, and that the charge could be reinstated if the requirements aren’t met.

Thornton’s application for acceptance into the PTI program comes as something of a surprise given the fact that when it was initially offered to her, she rejected it out of hand claiming that she “didn’t do anything wrong.” However, after her attorney, Richie Roberts, withdrew from the case based on her rebuff of the program, Thornton’s new attorney, Vincent Sanzone, assisted her in applying for PTI.

Despite the fact that the PTI program offered Thornton a potential exit strategy for his client, Roberts was emphatic that the charge as drafted shouldn’t be applied to his client based upon his interpretation of the applicable statute. “The statute as it exists really is aimed at people who actually go into a store with a phony credit card, for instance, and use that number and assume that name while committing a crime,” said Roberts.

“When you’re talking about things that get put on the Internet you’re getting into free speech…. The legislative history of our statute makes no mention of electronic means. The statute doesn’t fit the crime, which we don’t even admit was a crime,” Roberts reasoned.

The court, however, declined to dismiss the complaint against Thornton but did agree to admit her into the PTI program on the condition that she comply with the program’s requirements.

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