Prosecutors drop charges against Xbox modder

Modifying XboxThis week started out poorly for Matthew Crippen. The California resident was being taken to court for running a small operation modifying Xbox 360 consoles to play pirated games. To add to matters, the court wasn’t willing to permit a “fair use” argument and claimed it would not acknowledge the testimony of one of Crippen’s defendants.

But today, things got a whole lot better when the case was waved and Crippen walked free. Wired reports that prosecuting attorney Allen Chiu announced that the government “decided to dismiss the indictment…based on fairness and justice.”

The decision to dismiss the case came after Judge Philip Gutierrez lambasted the federal prosecutors for failing to adequately do their jobs. The judge argued that a crucial piece of the prosecution’s evidence, a video tape of Crippen performing a modification, was possibly obtained under less than legal circumstances. He also pointed out that Crippen was never given the option to settle out of court, and also took issues with lead prosecutor Chiu, who admitted to leading the jury by claiming that even if Crippen were unaware his actions were illegal he could be found guilty. At one point, Gutierrez exclaimed, “I really don’t understand what we’re doing here.”

Earlier this morning, Gutierrez said that in order for Crippen to be found guilty, it would have to be proved that he knew he was breaking the law. The prosecution affirmed in a piece of new testimony that undercover investigators witnessed and could prove Crippen had ran a counterfeit game. However, there was nothing of this in the report or earlier statements and Chiu reported he had failed to give the information to the defense.  Upon this admission, the case fell apart.

It’s a somewhat surprising turn of events, given Gutierrez’s previous denial of a “fair use” argument and the governments’ apparent determination to make an example out of Crippen. Still, the judge clearly outlined the need to prove Crippen guilty of explicitly using the modified Xbox 360 for illegal purposes. Crippen reported he would be returning to school in the near future and hopes to become a teacher.