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Is jail a fair punishment for malware?
January 24, 2007 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Should a Connecticut substitute teacher go to jail for 40 years because a classroom computer was infected with malware that allowed students to see porn?
posted by Sixtieslibber (65 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
No. Next.
posted by Stan Chin at 12:08 PM on January 24, 2007


40 years is too good for him. I say he tastes "the cat"!
posted by telstar at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2007


I live in CT and am speechless, this is just so fucked up.
posted by sfts2 at 12:11 PM on January 24, 2007


No.
posted by OmieWise at 12:12 PM on January 24, 2007


Simple computer ignorance should never land someone in jail for forty years, but I think she should have to spend a few hours answering rhetorical questions on MetaFilter.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2007


Hell yes! Maybe you hoopleheads will start taking patching computer vulnerabilities seriously for a change.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2007


Well, you know the old adage: those who can't do, get malware infected on another teacher's computer by accident and porn pops up inadvertently and they get sent to prison, unreasonably so.
posted by billysumday at 12:15 PM on January 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


It depends on who you ask.

I say" "No fucking way"

Nancy Grace says: "I hope that pedo-predator dies a painful death in prison"

I wish I could could go back in time and find a way to make sure the Puritans never made it to America.
posted by MikeMc at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by j-urb at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2007


Yes. Also, now that the precious bodily fluids of the students have been corrupted, they must be burned in purifying flame and their ashes scattered on unhallowed ground.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2007


Christ, this is so stupid. Having just typoed the address for craigslist (no S for those who just want to know for security reasons) and had about 15 porn popups appear on my screen at work, I expect to be hauled away any moment. So farewell, mefites.
posted by etaoin at 12:22 PM on January 24, 2007


I am thinking no.

Is there something in America that makes American policy makers particularly dumb?
posted by chunking express at 12:23 PM on January 24, 2007


Is there something in America that makes American policy makers particularly dumb?

Yes, the voters.
posted by mmahaffie at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2007 [16 favorites]


20 years just for living in Connecticut. Another 20 for making me look at The Huffington Post. So, yeah - 40 seems about right.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2007


This is exactly what the rogue Russian malware programmers want - it strikes a blow to the very core of the substitute teaching profession. This is an ill portent, certain doom on a dark horizon; an orchestrated effort to wrest control from the nation's backup educational force is underway. Pornography has truly become a double-edged sword.
posted by krippledkonscious at 12:32 PM on January 24, 2007


Christ, this is so stupid. Having just typoed the address for craigslist (no S for those who just want to know for security reasons) and had about 15 porn popups appear on my screen at work, I expect to be hauled away any moment. So farewell, mefites.
Ah, memories. I had a support call once from a gentleman who had an issue with his website being diverted to a pornography site. Policy dictated that we could never take the customers word on issues, but had to replicate the issue ourselves. So I got to say "Yes, sir. You seem to be right. That is pornography. I'll have that fixed right away." And then began hitting Alt-F4 like mad.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2007


All she knew was that she'd been told not to turn the computer off. So, she did her best to keep the kids away from the monitor.

A few weeks later, Amero was arrested and charge with multiple felonies.


And in the silence of that line break, a thousand stupid things that never should have happened, clearly did.

On January 5, 2007 a Norwich jury found her guilty on four counts of "injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children.


I would like someone to test the jurors home computers, anyone with similar malware present should be found guilty as an accessory and share in her fate.
posted by quin at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2007


As if being a substitute teacher wasn't punishment enough
posted by mosk at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


This has to be one of the most stupid cases I have heard about recently.
posted by dbolll at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2007


The jury didn't get to hear most of the defense expert's testimony because Amero's attorney failed to bring up malware during the discovery phase of the trial.

Holy malpractice, Batman! Failing to disclose the opinions of a testifying expert in violation of the rules of procedure that results in witness being struck and resulting in a conviction is pretty much the definition of legal malpractice.
posted by dios at 12:35 PM on January 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


I have one thing to say: fuck the children.
posted by autodidact at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2007


First comes the miscarriage, then you're fucked.
posted by effwerd at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2007


dios, you just made my head hurt. Would it kill you to use a comma, dammit?!
posted by lodurr at 12:48 PM on January 24, 2007


Sometimes I think about changing career paths and getting a teaching certification. Then I see something like this...
posted by Burhanistan at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2007


The AlterNet story has a lot more detail than the Huffington blog.
posted by dejah420 at 1:00 PM on January 24, 2007


dios, you just made my head hurt. Would it kill you to use a comma, dammit?!

There is no place for a comma to go in that sentence. It is a perfectly good sentence as it stands. (As opposed to a 40-year sentence for having a computer with malware and an unspeakably terrible lawyer.)
posted by languagehat at 1:00 PM on January 24, 2007


This is fucking stupid.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:05 PM on January 24, 2007


It's possible that the phrase in violation of the rules of procedure could be rendered a subordinate clause and bracketed by commas, but there's definitely no place for a comma elsewhere in the sentence. dios speaks truthfully.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:08 PM on January 24, 2007


Sounds like the prosecution witness (the detective) got a phone-in certificate in Intarnets Seecurity and knows nothing. Unfortunately, neither did the jury.
posted by notsnot at 1:17 PM on January 24, 2007


40 years? She could have had sex with a student and then stabbed him and been facing less time.
posted by MikeMc at 1:20 PM on January 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


On appeal - Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

but this time she needs a real lawyer, dios is so right on this one.
posted by caddis at 1:23 PM on January 24, 2007


This is one of those few cases where I find myself thinking that sentences should be applied in reverse, if a judgment is overturned on appeal.

...which is to say that, in the Glorious New Regime, the judge and prosecuting attorneys would be sentenced to equal fractions of the 40 years originally given the defendant.

Ample time to consider their mistakes. Sort of like requiring guards to serve out the sentence of any prisoner that escapes on their watch.
posted by aramaic at 1:24 PM on January 24, 2007


The judge and prosecuting attorneys would be sentenced to equal fractions of the 40 years originally given the defendant

What did the judge do wrong? We live in a society where you have a right to trial by a jury of your peers. She had one. Her peers--the jury--are who found her guilty of the crimes. Not the judge.

That being said, there has not been a sentencing yet. The judge could then consider issues before sentencing her and use his discretion there. From the story that we know, the judge did his job. He is sworn to apply the rules. And the rules (in most places) say the information should be struck if it is not properly disclosed.

The prosecution attorney could have elected to not pursue her criminally, but suppose it was the case she was surfing for porn. It is clearly within his job description to pursue such charges to the best of his abilities. So assuming that he didn't have any evidence that it was the result of malware put on the computer by someone else (the Barry Bonds defense), then he was doing his job.

The problem here is the defense attorney. He clearly screwed the pooch in two ways: (1) failing to disclose his expert's opinions; and (2) apparently doing an absolutely horrible job of cross-examining the prosecution's expert and arguing his case even without his own expert. He committed malpractice, given the story we have.

I don't see any evidence in the story of prosecutorial misconduct. I don't see any evidence of an abuse of discretion by the judge. So don't jump on them for doing their jobs.
posted by dios at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2007


The problem is clearly that twelve streetsweepers get to decide the fate of a person's life.

In most of the developed world (namely in those countries without a jury system to be precise), such stupid convictions are unheard of.
posted by sour cream at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2007


uh, make that "a person's fate".
posted by sour cream at 1:58 PM on January 24, 2007


The media is following the wrong angle of this story. The issue isn't about the unfortunate teacher who was the last to touch the machine (well, OK, legally it is). It's about the unsafe tools that our schools use as teaching aids.

The article doesn't mention it, but I must assume that the computer's OS was Windows. If I'm correct, is Microsoft culpable for selling a product so full of security holes that it can expose a classroom to pornography? Will this lead to a discussion about which OS is appropriate for our public schools?

Apple used to own the educational market (pdf link), but Microsoft overtook Apple with lower prices and aggressive marketing. Should schools be required to purchase computers with "secure" (the definition of secure TBD) OSes, in spite of the additional cost?

I know that public schools are poor, that Microsoft is rich, and that any litigation along these lines is unlikely to happen. But this won't be the last time it happens until the hole is plugged.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2007


If I'm correct, is Microsoft culpable for selling a product so full of security holes that it can expose a classroom to pornography? Will this lead to a discussion about which OS is appropriate for our public schools?

No and no.
posted by sour cream at 2:12 PM on January 24, 2007


Failing to disclose the opinions of a testifying expert, in violation of the rules of procedure that results in witness being struck and resulting in a conviction, is pretty much the definition of legal malpractice.

Well, if that doesn;t read better, could it be rewritten?
posted by dash_slot- at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2007


I weep. 40 years wouldn't scan if this woman had screened Debbie Does Dallas, for christ's sake.
posted by cortex at 2:14 PM on January 24, 2007


Well, this will be a one-side thread, when people like me are agreeing with people like dios. I'm a fan of the civil suit on some kind of grounds, and/or the not-plausible-but-nice-to-dream-about reverse judgment that aramaic notes above.

One of the great flaws of American bureaucracy like this is that it is, allegedly, a simple and quasi-logical response to multiple unchecked forces, such as anti-porn hysteria. I.e., the presumption is the school board and legal authorities assume they would be more pilloried if they did nothing than if they did what we're now reading about. Under that thinking, completely ham-fisted perversions of justice are actually in the mind of the bureaucrat a preferable alternative: at least if this woman rots in jail for up to 40 years, no one can say you were "lax" or "negligent" on anything you're paid to safeguard. Sure, a life was ruined, but you'll still get paid as a defender and protector of blahblahblah...

Just for causing this woman needless and pointless trouble- because I can't imagine this will possible withstand even the first round of appeals- I'd like to see the people who pursued this, everyone who had an opportunity to say "Hey this is nuts, what the holy hell are we doing?" and chose instead to "do their duty" physically harmed, if not maimed. Maybe I'm a catcher in the rye, but I loathe the reality of our consequence-less world... if only people were in constant connection with each other, if only every prosecutor and judge had to feel, had to actually live out, her life as they envisioned it when they pursued this. A Last Temptation of Myself that everyone lived out, if you will, living through an entire life in a second, returning to the present time with an experienced and full understanding of another's existence and the humanity or inhumanity of their own actions and choices. Imagine if everyone, from the banal to the horrifically evil, from the surly bus driver to Stalin or Bundy, lived out two separate threads of existence, their own and those of everyone they met as they interacted with them. Would they- could they- do the things humans do to each other so routinely?

God really fucked this shit up by making us so completely separate and isolated, is what I'm saying. That guy is a retard...
posted by hincandenza at 2:38 PM on January 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


The problem is clearly that twelve streetsweepers get to decide the fate of a person's life.

In most of the developed world (namely in those countries without a jury system to be precise), such stupid convictions are unheard of.


In many US jurisdictions, a defendant can waive his right to a jury trial and pin his hopes on the judge. Judging by the half-dozen or so judges who I know, I'm not sure that one is substantially better than the other.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:39 PM on January 24, 2007


I'm not condoning showing kids "Anal Gangbangers 1-67" or whatever, but are kids really "harmed" by this stuff? We're such a weird country.
posted by maxwelton at 2:42 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


maxwelton: I'm not condoning showing kids "Anal Gangbangers 1-67" or whatever, but are kids really "harmed" by this stuff?
Well, they'd certainly be harmed by the cinematography in Anal Gangbangers 32 through 36; the camera work in that was so shaky it was nausea inducing! Stoopid Dogme 95...
posted by hincandenza at 2:47 PM on January 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


That alternet article was by Lindsay Beyerstein of Majikthise.

-The prosecution 'expert witness' - a Police sergeant - had 2 weeks training (on general computer security).
-The Police rely on the ComputerCopPro program which is unable to detect automatic redirects.

I wonder if the Judge will call a mistrial or if his hands are tied. I can't believe the convictions won't be quashed somewhere along the line. And I imagine the school faces some sort of exposure for having an out of date firewall. That might help the regular teacher from facing charges when it comes to light that they were probably responsible for acquiring the malware. Still, what an insane set of legal circumstances.

John F. Cocheo is a name worth remembering. Remembering never to hire him that is. (defense attorney). Thanks Sixtieslibber.
posted by peacay at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2007


She was told not to turn the computer off. But apparently, she didn't know she could just turn the monitor off. Well, computer illiteracy isn't a crime, i guess.

I think the school should be held liable. It's like they gave their nurse dirty needles to give the kids flu shots, and then arrested the nurse when one of the kids got HIV.

I just hope Ted Stevens doesn't get wind of this....

Oh, and this totally reminds me of the "return of the fellowship of the rings to the two towers" southpark episode.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 3:00 PM on January 24, 2007


What did the judge do wrong? We live in a society where you have a right to trial by a jury of your peers. She had one. Her peers--the jury--are who found her guilty of the crimes. Not the judge.

Maybe I just watched too much television as a kid, but I was under the impression that a judge could set aside a verdict under some circumstances. Would "a blatantly imbecilic finding wholly unsupported by evidence and which would not occur to a rational being" be one of those circumstances?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:07 PM on January 24, 2007


Couldn't they have simply asked the kids? They're the only real witnesses. Surely they were aware of what site their teacher was attempting to access, were aware that she wasn't deliberately trying to load porn, and were aware that what happened had nothing to do with a deliberate action of the teacher.
One student told the court that Amero pushed his face away from the screen when she saw him looking at the racy ads.
Case closed. Ferchrissakes.
posted by Jimbob at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2007


Wait, I'm confused. Let's say she purposely exposed kids to porn.

...this is now punishable by a sentence of forty years in prison?!

That seems just a [i]tad[/i] harsh.
posted by Target Practice at 3:30 PM on January 24, 2007


but I was under the impression that a judge could set aside a verdict under some circumstances.

There are some circumstances when judges can disagree with juries. But those circumstances are usually very narrowly drawn and often require the counsel seeking such an action to move for such an action (and here, the counsel appears to be so incompetent that they probably wouldn't have known about such motions if they were available). It is rare that a judge can set aside a verdict, sua sponte.

But you are correct. There may be some statutory authority for the judge to disregard the verdict. For instance, in some jurisdictions, the judge can grant judgments non obstante veredicto or grant a motion for new trial. (There tends to be more avenues for judicial discretion in rendering verdicts in civil cases then in criminal cases; e.g., in some jurisdictions civil courts can grant motions for remittitur to reduce damages that a jury finds).

So that possibility exists. I just didn't want to go down that route because it is in Connecticut, and as soon as a I said anything, sure enough some asshole in my fan club would have set to trying to find some way to throw whatever I said in my face. But there may be a capacity for the judge to set aside a finding of guilt. That being said, I think the more likely scenario is for the judge to use discretion in the sentencing phase to diminish the sentences. But that is just my guess, as I am not familiar with Connecticut criminal sentencing guidelines.
posted by dios at 3:35 PM on January 24, 2007


...this is now punishable by a sentence of forty years in prison?!

Well, that isn't how the statutes usually read. It usually follows the progression that Action X is considered a misdemeanor/1st Felony/3rd degree Felony etc. And then you got the sentencing guidelines, and it says "2nd degree felonies are punishable for 5-40 years" or something of that sort. The ranges are intentionally broad because not all 2nd degree felonies are equivalent in every factual circumstance.

You can certainly envision a scenario when Action X might deserve 40 years. And there might be scenarios when Action X might deserve only 5 (or less).

The key is that juries don't know the effects of the ruling. The judge determines sentences. Juries determine whether there is guilt based on the substantive elements of the crime. So the jury isn't given the question "Should Sally Sue get 40 years because some porn ads popped up on her computer." They are given the question such as: "Do you find beyond a reasonable doubt that Sally Sue (1) knowingly or recklessly (2) show pornography to (3) someone under 13?" So the jury has to decide whether they think she did each of those things. And that is all they decide. They don't make the ruling with an eye towards the consequence; they make a ruling based on the instructions they are given. Of course, there are times when someone "(1) knowingly or recklessly (2) show pornography to (3) someone under 13" when it is a really, really bad thing. And there are times like this when it isn't. That is why there is discretion along the way (whether to charge, length of sentence, etc.).
posted by dios at 3:44 PM on January 24, 2007


Thanks for the legal input, dios. But I thought juries were supposed to know the potential sentences that are on the table- certainly that's the case when seeking the death penalty, but I assumed juries always at least know what kind of sentence a "guilty" carries. Shouldn't that be part of the jury process, that the jury can say "Hm, probably guilty, but not guilty if the punishment is X"? And even if you don't agree that they should do that, are they actually prohibited from being told during the trial process what the sentence range may be- i.e., can we assume this jury actually had no idea the potential sentence could be as much as 40 years?
Of course, there are times when someone "(1) knowingly or recklessly (2) show pornography to (3) someone under 13" when it is a really, really bad thing. And there are times like this when it isn't. That is why there is discretion along the way (whether to charge, length of sentence, etc.).
See, I think this was a runaway train: everyone involved with the process assumes that the case in and of itself must have some merit or "someone else" would surely have stopped this insanity long before this.

I always envisioned, in that idealized notion of democratic justice, that the jury's role was like the last line of defense for democracy: the actual application of the law being gated by real members of the community, so that a jury could- if informed- make the common sense judgment of "Well, I have no friggin' idea why I'm missing work just because some teacher had pop-ups on her computer- my computer at home has pop-ups on it all the time! God knows I'm not going to say 'guilty' and send her to jail for 40 years!".

That even if the law becomes unjust, a jury has the ability to say "Yeah, not guilty on marijuana possession. We may privately think he's guilty, but we disagree with the law and/or the tactics of the police in this case, so... not guilty!" The flip side is that that same jury could always decide that all black males are always guilty of whatever they're accused, or that all white Klan members are always innocent, but then if you can't find 1 person in 12 willing to be impartial, the problems run a lot deeper than the jury system.
posted by hincandenza at 4:23 PM on January 24, 2007


You may want to learn about these guys, hincandenza.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2007


I was born and raised in Norwich, CT.

This is insane... but not unsurprising. Here's why:

If this woman has a graduate degree, then she didn't get a trial by a jury of her peers. Norwich is a hidebound crap-hole that's been on the decline for a century, an equal mix of puritanical elderly shut-ins of questionable genetic integrity, an underclass of service workers for the nearby casinos (Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun), plus a permanent sub-underclass (both black and white) who's been on the dole since the textile mills closed in the late 1800s. There's your jury pool!

Word on the street is that the kids set the substitute teacher up, by surfing for porn when she wasn't looking, leading to the barrage of popups. (Personally, I've done this to conservative Christian co-workers, so maybe idiocy is genetic. And yes, our company has up-to-date filters. XXX sites create new URLs every day to avoid them.)

The comments in this thread should be a hell of a lot more outraged than they are. Forget the potential 40 year sentence -- she was convicted, which is enough. (A jury who needs Chief Wiggum to explain how computerizers work? Holy fuck.) This smacks of the satanic cult hysteria of the late 1980s, when common sense was thrown out the window. Let me get this straight: A woman goes to grad school and earns a teaching certificate just for that one glorious day when she can expose some jr. high kids to lame porn popups, knowing full well she'll be caught??? Um, okay.

I say burn the fucking town to the ground. Now. (But call my folks first, and give 'em a heads-up.)
posted by turducken at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


Also, a legal note: In criminal cases, juries are not supposed to know (or discuss) potential sentences. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred from mentioning them, and a mistrial usually results if they do.
posted by turducken at 4:52 PM on January 24, 2007


...and a final note before I go back to work:

The Norwich Bulletin is the local dog-trainer of record, and has numerous articles (and commentary) on the case.
posted by turducken at 4:56 PM on January 24, 2007


Hey, so there's basis for my idealism in actual law! I rule! :)

Nice link, thanks Kwantsar!
posted by hincandenza at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2007


And thanks for the legal clarification, turducken- so it sounds like sentencing rules are prohibited, but nothing can stop individual members of the jury from at least guessing what a sentence will be and deciding that they don't want to render a guilty verdict for even the low-end of the likely sentence. It only takes one! :)

Man, I really want to be a on jury...
posted by hincandenza at 5:04 PM on January 24, 2007


In most of the developed world (namely in those countries without a jury system to be precise), such stupid convictions are unheard of.

That's blatantly false, but hey, what do I know? I just live in the more civilized world (those countries with a jury system, to be precise).
posted by oaf at 6:10 PM on January 24, 2007


Apple used to own the educational market (pdf link), but Microsoft overtook Apple with lower prices and aggressive marketing. Should schools be required to purchase computers with "secure" (the definition of secure TBD) OSes, in spite of the additional cost?

*cough*LINUX*cough*
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 10:51 PM on January 24, 2007


And, from dejah420's link:
Since the verdict, the Norwich Police Department has been bombarded with irate calls and emails from readers who accusing them of railroading an innocent person.

"We're getting pretty much everything short of death threats," detective Lounsbury said. "I'm getting thrashed,"
Yeah, funny how that works.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 10:53 PM on January 24, 2007


I really miss Whitehouse.com. It was the perfect example of how one could get porn without even trying and probably would have been useful in this case. Setup a net connected computer in the courtroom, type whitehouse in the address bar of IE, get porn and acquittal.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 AM on January 25, 2007


What the fuck. Showing pornography to children is harmful? Yeah, they should never be exposed to sex in any way, shape, or form. People who are saying that there are "some instances" where getting thrown in jail for this are being a little too apologist. Do you really think that older kid who gave you that racy photograph when you were younger deserves to be prosecuted? Would you throw your dad in jail for leaving a playboy open in the bathroom by accident?

Christ, America is so fucking afraid of sex in any context. Yeah, just raise your kid on moral values and a steady diet of senseless movie violence; I'm sure they'll turn out fine. No wonder misogynism is still so prevalent in the current generation; kids usually get exposed to almost nothing (deliberately, to keep their "innocence") to teach them the real value of sexuality before they inevitably find out on their own; in our parents generation it was behind the stairs with the cute blonde, now it's more likely at some website called www.omg.buttsecks.org. Still, better they discover the realities of sex on some cheap smut site than go through their lives being taught to abstain for as long as possible. It's sure proven itself a pretty unfuckingeffective method.
posted by tehloki at 7:12 AM on January 26, 2007


tehloki, 'zackly. I don't watch much prime-time network TV anymore because I'm sick of "firearm porn" -- guns practically being used to make fashion statements, they're wielded so often; I'd much rather see two people gettin' it on than one pointing a weapon at another. But guess which one's immoral?
posted by pax digita at 6:40 AM on January 30, 2007


Metafilter: firearm porn.

I love that phrase. I'm going to start using it often.
posted by lodurr at 8:26 AM on January 30, 2007


Re. firearm porn... I think that's really just a sort of sub-fetish, really. The umbrella category must be something like 'virtue-&-punishment-porn.' It's not like BDSM, because it's very very un-self-aware. CSI/L&O/Etc. are all exemplars of what I'm talking about.

Related: You want to have a really fun time (or just get really depressed), spend a little time trying to deconstruct the moral messages in any given episode of House, MD. Makes me want to grab a bottle and curl up into a fetal position.
posted by lodurr at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2007


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