A New Legal Strategy: The Twinkernet Defense

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The lawyer for Michael Campbell, the 18-year-old Florida man who forced a two-day closing of Columbine High last month via an e-mailed bomb threat, is using a novel defense: Internet addiction. Campbell pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, with his lawyer claiming the young man's actions occurred in a semi-delusional state, the result of being lost in cyberspace. But if history is any indication, the defense will prove little more than publicity stunt — Campbell's lawyer, Ellis Rubin, has previously waged unsuccessful modernity-based defenses, including television addiction and Prozac-induced nymphomania.

"It's precisely because of things like this that we have a jury of a defendant's peers," says TIME legal correspondent Alain Sanders. "While there are merits to creative lawyering — it often produces previously unrealized rights — ours is a system that allows common sense to prevail," he says, noting that since most jurors have likely used the Internet without the urge to post threatening e-mails, they could judge the defense to be flimsy. Yet the case is sure to raise some interesting, even lofty issues, such as whether today's kids have become so desensitized by the proliferation of infotainment outlets that they can no longer draw the line between where reality begins and ends. After all, in the age of interactive media, kids use the same PC to play consequence-free shoot-'em-up video games, such as Doom, and to communicate with real people in chat rooms. And who hasn't had the mind-numbing experience of time standing still while surfing the Web? It might not be that much of a stretch to argue that after spending hours gliding through a barrage of images and factoids, Campbell didn't realize the implications of his actions. Maybe web browsers should start coming with a label — "Warning: Reality Not Included."