Android Pirate App Store Case Ends in Mistrial, Jury Undecided

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Four years ago a unique FBI operation took down several pirate Android app 'stores' and arrested their operators. One of the defendants went to trial last week but after careful deliberation the jury failed to reach a decision, with a mistrial declared instead. The Department of Justice could move for a retrial but says it will review its options first.

applanetAssisted by police in France and the Netherlands, the FBI took down the “pirate” Android stores Appbucket, Applanet and SnappzMarket during the summer of 2012.

During the years that followed several people connected to the Android app sites were arrested and indicted, and slowly but surely these cases are now reaching their conclusions.

Two months ago the first sentencing was announced, and it was a big one. SnappzMarket’s ‘PR manager’ Scott Walton was handed a 46-month prison sentence for conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.

Like several others, Walton had pleaded guilty in order to get a reduced sentence. However, not all did. David Lee, a California man linked to Applanet, decided to move to trial instead.

The indictment charged Lee with aiding and abetting criminal copyright infringement (pdf). In addition, he was charged with conspiring to infringe copyrights and violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision.

As the case progressed it became clear that the U.S. Government’s evidence wasn’t as strong as initially thought. Before the trial even started, the prosecution voluntarily dropped the criminal copyright infringement charge.

The “overt” acts that were scrapped due to a lack of evidence are all related to an undercover FBI agent in the Northern District of Georgia, who supposedly downloaded pirated apps from Applanet’s computer servers.

What remained was the conspiracy charge and last week both parties argued their case before the jury. Over the course of several days many witnesses were heard, including FBI agents and co-defendant Gary Sharp, who previously pleaded guilty.

Friday last week the closing arguments were presented after which the jury retreated to deliberate at 10:30 in the morning. At the end of the day, however, they still hadn’t reached a decision so the court decided to continue after the weekend.

On Monday the jury got back together but after having failed to reach a verdict by the end of the day, a mistrial was declared. This means that David Lee has not been found guilty.

Mistrial

mistrial

TorrentFreak reached out to Lee’s lawyers for more information but they declined to comment.

In the jury instructions the defense hammered on the fact that the government must prove that either the conspiracy or an overt act took place in the District of Georgia, even if the defendant never set foot there.

It could be that the Jury couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on that point or any of the other key issues.

TF also contacted the Department of Justice, who didn’t go into detail either, but informed us that they are still evaluating the outcome. “We are considering our options,” a DoJ spokesperson said.

In theory, the U.S. Government can ask for a retrial, which means that the case has to be tried again. For now, however, David Lee remains out of prison.

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