Can I go to jail for searching through someone’s emails?

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Can I go to jail for searching through someone’s emails?

I hired a person to write a screenplay with me. During the 10 months
together, I was noticing that he was defrauding me and lying about whom
he claimed to be. When I told him I no longer wanted to work with him, he
began sending me disturbing and threatening emails about destroying my
life, career and also committing slander against me and my family. One
day, I logged into gmail and his account was there. I had a hunch, I clicked
on it and it opened. He in fact was trying to defraud me, and he was
sending my private emails to people. I logged out. But I needed to know
how far he would go against me, so I used a password that he had given
me before to another one of his emails and it happened to be the same
one. This time I saw that he was sending emails with false accusations
about me and my family. I logged in a few more times, only to make sure
he wasn’t going to sabotage a project that I was working on for a few
years. I then saw that he is in fact a professional stalker who holds
multiple restraining orders and arrest warrants from several jurisdictions.
He then discovered that I was searching his emails and now he’s
threatening me to send me to jail and FBI. I did not do anything with this
information, I only did it to protect myself from a criminal who was 24/7
working in my home and lying. So my question is can I go to jail for
checking this person’s email?

Asked on February 11, 2017 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

He can try to make a claim for invasion of privacy, but he is the one who willingly provided you his passwords and account information.  However, I would suggest that you not look again and simply say it was an accidental loggin based on the authorized access you had to another account if it comes up again.  Because you didn't do anything with the data and you didn't pretend to be him by sending emails to make it look like he sent them... then you are in okay shape.  Most online privacy offenses require some intent to harm or defraud.  Your lack of action negates any negative intent.  That does not, however, mean that he will not try to force the issue or that some prosecutor won't try to enforce it.  Not all prosecutors are diligent or have the same code of ethics. 
So.... going forward... discontinue accessing the email.  Do not talk to him about the emails or even acknowledge looking at the emails.  Consult with a business attorney to help you obtain a restraining order against this fellow.  Try to find one that has some experience with handling the ugly world of slander in business litigation as well.  They can help you devise a plan to minimize the impact of this guy's presence in your life.... but safely considering the things you have already described.


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