Civil Rights

More Tales of Prosecutoral Excess

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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.

NEXT: Vegas Meets Nip/Tuck—Not Surprisingly, Critics Boo!

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  1. “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.”

    As someone who spends a nice chunk of each week clearing office computers of spyware, I can say with near certainty that this quote is not true. Ms. Amero may have clicked on something she probably shouldn’t have, but more that likely that something had no indication of being porn. From that point, the pop-ups have a mind of their own.

  2. Man, I don’t even know what to say to this crap anymore.

    – R

  3. Of course they didn’t check for spyware – they didn’t need to.

    Sex crimes, especially those involving children don’t require intent so the police had no reason to spend the resources to close that loop.

    Also their computer expert is an idiot.

  4. Nobody can be that ignorant and that familiar with browser history at the same time. You couldn’t put those sentences together in good faith. He’s not an idiot, he’s a lying asshole.

  5. …which, of course, immediately begs the question:

    Who in the school administration and/or city hall did this teacher piss off recently?

    JMJ

  6. I think we’re to the point where adults interacting with children simply isn’t worth the risk. For the adults, that is.

  7. So the entire notion of “criminal intent” has been completely abandoned, then.

  8. What.
    The.
    Fuck.

    This is what happens in a big world when people don’t understand how things work. Just like people creating religion and gods to explain shit – the idiots create boogeymen behind every door.

    Substitute teachers, 14 year old kids – they’re all out to show everyone porn and fuck your dog and kill your mom.

  9. Damn — what lousy excuse for a lawyer did that poor woman have? And did they actively make sure the jury had nobody on it who had ever shovelled spyware from a computer?

    This is a horrible miscarriage of justice.

  10. “If you’re a bad guy and you want to frustrate law enforcement, use a Mac.”

  11. Did anyone else catch the irony of the Norwich Bulletin having links to the web pages that will lead to jail time for this poor woman?

  12. I read all the comments and am gratified to at least notice that, with the exception of one possible troll who talked about the woman’s getting a “fair” trial, everyone agrees this is an egregious miscarriage of justice.

  13. “is your average middle schooler today really going to be traumatized for life after exposure to pop-up porn?”

    For all the other absurdities going on here, this is the part that really gets me. Sure, if you had a teacher deliberately going out of their way to show kids porn, you would not want them in the class room. But where does the premise that a 14 year old seeing pornography, whether by accident or intentionally, a pop-up or hours of video, does some great harm come from at all? Is there even a serious argument to be made? It’s not really a clear right/left thing, sure social conservatives would tell you porn will end you up in hell, but I’m sure there’s an element of protect-the-children-at-all costs liberalism in here too. I don’t think there’s any case to be made that exposure does harm children/teens who either a)are too young to get it or b)already looking at it or having equally dirty thoughts anyway. Sheesh.

    I would further aruge that I sure the hell was looking at a lot more than just pop-up porn when I was fourteen and seemed to have turned out alright, but I imagine the kind of people who think porn is so unspeakably dangerous to children wouldn’t consider an atheist premarital-sex-havin’ liberterian as having turned out alright.

  14. Wow. I am never so much as looking at another child again. At least I don’t particularly like them, and I live in a neighborhood with almost none of them 🙂

  15. There’s a plausible scenario or two that would make it illegal to show a minor porn. The first would be if the porn itself was the product of an illegal act: rape, child rape/molestation or murder. That’s very underground stuff, and I’m not even sure that anyone has verified the existence of an actual “snuff” porno. The other is a child molester strategy. Chester gets a child alone, gives him(her) booze and/or drugs, then shows the kid porn in an attempt to get her(him) horny, or at least curious. Then Chester rapes the little darling. Neither of these situations matches up with not twigging to how to shut off the monitor on a PC that’s been possessed by feelthy spywear, which was the damned district’s fault, anyway.

    They should be roasting the hides of the idiots who let their malware protection lapse.

    Kevin

  16. The shocking thing is that the teachers union, who is normally up in arms about the slightest percieved “wrong” to teachers is dead silent on this one. Or maybe substitute teachers are not part of the union?

  17. Well, no, mtc, you’d be first against the wall.

    For the children, of course.

    Shudder.

  18. is your average middle schooler today really going to be traumatized for life after exposure to pop-up porn?

    Boy Howdy, these kids, they’re so with it and grown up now. Probably invented sex, too. Just like every generation before them.

  19. Seems unlikely that a 40-year-old woman with no prior record would knowingly subject school children to porn……

    But if she was twenty five…..

  20. “is your average middle schooler today really going to be traumatized for life after exposure to pop-up porn?”

    Yes, are there any studies showing harm?

    Also, even if so, does she really deserve a prison term longer than if she killed one of them?

    And doesn’t the fact that they have not proved mens rea (intent) relevant? I am a software engineer and can tell you that you DO NOT have to click on a link to have it appear in your history, you merely have to visit the link, which could be by redirection.

    Example: Put the following text in a text file, and give it a .html extension, shut off your popup blocker and open the file in internet explorer, it will spawn two popups of itself, and a popup each of yahoo.com, reason.com, google.com and msnbc.com. I wish the defense knew this.

    Popup

    function Load()
    {
    window.open(‘someurl.html’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    window.open(‘someurl.html’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    window.open(‘https://www.reason.com/’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    window.open(‘http://www.msnbc.com/’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    window.open(‘http://www.yahoo.com/’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    window.open(‘http://www.google.com/’, ”, ‘top = 50, left = 50, height = 280, width = 600, status = no, resizable = no, scrollbars = yes, toolbar = no, menubar = no, location = no, directories = no’);
    }

  21. As a network administrator and a person that has spent a large part of the last eight years working on PC’s to remove spyware, malware, and other tacky things from PC’s, I have gotten viruses just by clicking on what I have thought was inocuous link to People Magazine. I have seen some sites that have spyware and popups built into them and in some cases they will not let you out. The first thing that the teacher probably tried to do was exit and they will not let you out. The more that you try, the worse it gets. If the school had let it’s malware/spyware protection lapse, they are far more guilty than the instructor. The expert has an issue.

  22. The expert has an issue.

    You mean aside from perjury?

  23. i live in norwich. this is ridiculous. maybe if she was naked in front of the kids. but its only an advertisement. this is stupid.

  24. Jennifer,

    So the entire notion of “criminal intent” has been completely abandoned, then.

    No, it’s been pre-supposed.

  25. Thought this posted last night.

    A year ago or so I hear the House Blond, age six, hollering Ew and Gross at high decibel. Heard the pitter patter of That Boy’s feet as he ran to her room and then joined her for a whole chorus of Ew’s. Figuring the dog had barfed or there was a dead something near the door, Mrs TWC sauntered down the stairs and was horrified at what she saw on the computer screen.

    Katie had typed Oops I Did It Again into Google because she likes to listen to snippets of Bubble Gum MP3’s that are available on those bopper web sites. This time she clicked on some innocent looking link that took her into a porn site, which then hijacked her browser so that each time she tried to leave the site another porn site popped up. In the space of two minutes she had 12 or 15 porn pages open.

    Apparently, the illegality of hihacking browsers when the user tries to close a page isn’t high on these guys list of website maintennance priorities.

    I really was surprised and honestly didn’t think this would be an issue for another two or three years at least. Needless to say I changed the settings in preferences. I don’t care that Google filters too much. The medium setting didn’t filter nearly enough.

    Jake wanted to know if those were real people doing that stuff to each other.

    Not sure what his mother told him.

  26. Firstly, I have to question if their expert is the type of person who once read a script at a tech support desk, who then decided he is an expert in all things PC.
    Its entirely possible that she clicked on something innocent and ended up in the loop.

    There is NO QUESTION about that it is fact. The expert should be promptly removed from the case and possibly charged with whatever neccessary. I’m not sure of the exact cherge he/she should face but I’m sure that giving false evidence that leads to an innocent person’s conviction is a crime.

    Justice, lol.

  27. The kids need to grow up anyway. The pop-ups were just a calling-card. 🙂

    Oh, and the Computer “EXPERT” isn’t quite as gifted as he’s given credit for.

  28. TWC,
    Why in the hell do you have a computer in a six year olds room? You should be prosecuted for stupidity.

  29. Got your Bullet Barney?!
    The expert is a fricking IDIOT!

  30. Lessons from this:

    1) There is now a strict liability standard in respect of exposing teenagers (most of whom probably are sexually active) to otherwise legal images of naked people. It does not matter whether you intended to do so or not.

    2) Working with children is extremely dangerous.

    When my wife was pregnant, she went looking for information on the internet. She searched for “pregnant”, clicked on the first site on the list, and got a pregnant-porn web site. Of course when she tried to close it, more porn sites just kept popping up. I’m glad there was not a teenager in the room, because otherwise (based on this case) she could have gone to prison for 40 years and be permanently listed as a sex offender for the remainder of her life.

    This story, the one about the teenager showing a Playboy magazine to his teenaged buddies, and the Duke/Nifong case, are all very depressing.

  31. here is a good overview of the problems with this case:

    http://sunbeltblog.blogspot.com/2007/01/preston-gralla-class-act.html

    And just to recap the facts of the case as we know it:

    Julie Amero, a 40-year old substitute teacher, has been convicted of charges related to certain children in her 7th grade class seeing porn on a classroom computer. She is facing up to 40 years in prison.

    A forensic examination by an expert, W. Herbert Horne, showed that the machine was infected with porn-spewing spyware. In other words, these were not popups coming from a website, they were popups created by a piece of malware on the computer. Surpringly, the prosecution admits that it made no search made for spyware during its investigation.

    The forensic expert also found that here were multiple user accounts on the computer, and porn had been on the computer for quite some time.

    David Smith, the prosecutor, said that Amero intended to access the pornographic sites because she had to “physically click” to “get to those sites”. The statement is so patently wrong it boggles the mind. When a popup occurs on a computer, it will get logged as a normal website visit (as well as the graphic material itself) and no “physical click” is necessary.

    Much of the case apparently came down to the prosecution’s self-righteous statement that “she should have turned off the computer”. This is ridiculous. Amero was a substitute teacher under strict orders by the school administrators not to turn off the computer. She was arguably shocked and feeling somewhat helpless by the situation, and sources report that she did report this incident to the proper school authorities. Furthermore, she certainly did try to keep the children from viewing this material, at every instance blocking the children from being able to see the popups by physically standing in their way or pushing them away. This was not a case of a “teacher surfing porn”. This was an accident caused by poorly maintained computer equipment.

    Not that it’s probably legally relevant, but the activities of the court may have cause for some suspicion. One source reports that the Trial Judge, Hillary Strackbein, “was seen falling asleep during proceedings and made comments to the jury that she wanted the case over by the end of the week. It was also reported that Judge Strackbein attempted to pressure the defense into an unwanted plea deal, in place of a trial. The defense attorney for Amero, moved for a mistrial shortly before closing arguments Friday, based on reports that jurors had discussed the case at a local restaurant.” (I believe that the judge questioned the jurors subsequently and they denied having discussed the case.)

    The school didn’t even have up-to-date content filtering in place. Even the federal government requires content filtering for schools that receive federal funding, as mandated by CIPA – the Children’s Internet Protection Act. (I don’t know if they were receiving federal funding, but it’s irrelevant. Adequate content filtering is a basic requirement for any school.)
    This thing has to get thrown out on appeal. It’s such an injustice. This case cannot stand, as the precedent it would create would be quite unnerving – not the mention the fact that an innocent woman may very well go to prison for a long time.

    Alex Eckelberry

  32. The “expert” should be held liable for his false testamony as he was probably paid to provide it. Had he done just a little bit of research he would have learned about the various browser hijackers out there. When someone’s life is at stake it is inexcuseable not to properly research the issue.

  33. I love linux!! Not spyware, no pop-ups. No joke!

  34. The “expert” should be held liable for his false testamony as he was probably paid to provide it. Had he done just a little bit of research he would have learned about the various browser hijackers out there.

    Research? How about experience? I find it difficult to believe that anyone with enough Internet hours to qualify as “expert” hasn’t himself encountered the problem.

  35. I cannot believe this article. Just this past weekend I attended a movie that was rated “R”. There were at least 15 families ranging in age from 2 months to 13 years old attending this movie. This movie was contained very vulgar language and was sexually explicit. I was embarrassed to be in the same theater with the children. I was unable to enjoy my movie expierence. I would venture to say that these same folks filing this grievence took their kids to see this movie too. What is this world coming to?

  36. I believe that the police have every right to prosecute this women. It was her responsibility that the computer she was using was clean of spyware/malware, what ever. This stuff does not spontaneously appear, you have to click on a website activate the pop ups. The police experts have one thing that you non believers have, the law is on their side and not yours. Remember, when law enforment talks, people listen and no questions them without some type of retribution from questioning them.

  37. …What i want to know… What are these idiots getting out of prosocuteting this poor woman, shouldent they be spending there time on people like killers? or mabye rapeists, this lady commited no offence, and if there are willing to punish her the worst thing that she sould receve is fine of some sort, if that, but it was a accedent, and every prosocuter, judge and jury member has made mistakes before this. and i hope that before they deside to ruin this poor womans life, they should consider there own once in a wile.

  38. PB, you are an idiot!

  39. PB … What medication are you on exactly?? It’s not the teachers who have to make sure that the computer is clean of malware, etc. That is the responsibility of the IT department (if the school has one) or Local authorities that look after the computers. Not all teachers are computer literate to a level where they can sort out malware, spyware and realize that the software that protects them is out of date. If teachers were at this level THEN there would only be computer teachers in the world? let’s not go down that road. Teachers HAVE to assume that the kit they are given is safe to use, be it a pair of scissors or a computer.
    As for law enforcement I understand?. I mean when has the law ever been wrong?? Boy you really are a muppet.

  40. Kinda obvious that PB is joking. It’s soaked in sarcasm.

  41. Being IT I have seen many computers completely riddled in spyware/malware/etc to the point that simply giving them network access causes a stream of popups that you have no control of.

    I once accidentally exposed a visitor to our office of pop-up-porn by giving a computer I thought was clean a connection to our network and turned my back to it. These things happen.

    Also what I am seeing from this case is the legal precedent that a visited link is proof of accessing a page. I could easily make it look like a PC with IE (even firefox) had visited a bunch of pages it never has with only minimal access to the machine.

  42. So are you guys just going to talk about this or is someone going to save this woman and also persuade her to sue the ass off of this school jurisdiction?

  43. Another good reason to avoid all contact with, and responsibility for, children or any occupation that involves contact with children. Since I hate kids anyway, this is not a sacrifice for me personally.

  44. unbelievable!!!!!!!!

  45. IF the prosecution really wins this case I’m REALLY going to stop buying/using any products made in U.S.A. Really.

  46. Things like this happening in the US and those same idiots has nuclear weapons.

    World isn’t really safe anymore.

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