More Tales of Prosecutoral Excess


Apropos of Jacob's post below, here's another case of prosecutors gone wild:

A substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut with no prior criminal record could get 40 years in prison for exposing a middle school class to pornography. She apparently was using the computer in front of students when a loop of pop-up ads for porn sites began to appear. The loops only intensified as she tried to close out the ads. The woman made the plausible defense that some sort of adware or malware on her computer caused the pop-up ads to appear. She also testified that she notified several teachers and administrators of the problem, and got no assistance.

Over at Boing Boing , several tech-savvy experts weigh in, mostly in the woman's defense. They point to this passage from the local Norwich paper:

Computer expert W. Herbert Horner, testifying in Amero's defense, said he found spyware on the computer and an innocent hair styling Web site "that led to this pornographic loop that was out of control."

"If you try to get out of it, you're trapped," Horner said.

But Smith countered Horner's testimony with that of Norwich Police Detective Mark Lounsbury, a computer crimes investigator. On a projected image of the list of Web sites visited while Amero was working, Lounsbury pointed out several highlighted links.

"You have to physically click on it to get to those sites," Smith said. "I think the evidence is overwhelming that she did intend to access those Web sites."

Strange that local authorities refuse to give the woman the benefit of the doubt (see also the laughable editorial from the same Norwich paper). Seems unlikely that a 40-year-old woman with no prior record would knowingly subject school children to porn—not to mention the absurdity of the charge itself (is your average middle schooler today really going to be traumatized for life after exposure to pop-up porn?) and the ridiculous possible sentence. I would presume (but I'm not certain) that the conviction would also qualify the woman as a sex offender. Meaning that her life is about to become damn-near unlivable.

Even more troubling, one Boing Boing commenter notes that the prosecution's witness clearly has no idea what the hell he's talking about:

I'm not sure if you noticed this: the Norwich Bulletin article had a VERY troubling quote on it—the prosecution used an expert witness that said a highlighted link was proof that the accused had clicked on the URLs.

That is simply not true. The expert witness is either lying or a fucking idiot. Visited links are highlighted if a browser had ever loaded a URL– I've yet to find a browser that highlights visited links on a "source | destination" basis—every one i've ever encountered highlights links on "destination" alone.

I made a quick demo over here to illustrate my point: Link

Other commenters note that the school itself could be in trouble for allowing the licenses on its content filters to expire, a bit of information that also suggests the school probably wasn't particularly vigilant about keeping its computers free of malware and spyware, either.

In fact, the same police expert quoted above apparently admitted on the stand that the computer wasn't even inspected for spyware.

Tech geeks at Slashdot also weigh in, overwhelmingly in the woman's defense.