I practice law in Orange County and all southern California courts, but I follow legal news about criminal law from around the country. I’m still shaking my head over an article I read a couple of weeks ago. In Connecticut, a substitute teacher faced up to 40 years in prison for showing pornography images to some of her students. Her legal saga began in 2004 when the computer in her classroom began displaying “pop-up” ads for pornographic websites. Several students reported that they had seen the images from their seats or when they approached the teacher’s desk. The prosecution charged her with criminal offenses for showing the “harmful material” to children.
In the current political climate, where teachers have been convicted of having sex with students, at first blush it seems like just another case against a teacher.
The problem was, she wasn’t guilty. As it turned out, the computer in the classroom she was assigned to was infected with malware (a type of computer virus that will do things to your computer without your knowledge). This virus caused images from pornography websites to open on the computer screen when she launched the internet browser. That malware had been on the school computer before she even set foot in the classroom.
Every crime requires two things: an act and criminal intent.
Where was any criminal intent on this teacher’s part? Did she intend to show naked pictures to children? Absolutely not. She was the victim of bad technology and an overzealous prosecution. The police and prosecution never even checked the computer to see if it had the malware virus. Instead, they just went forward on the “she must have done it” theory. Her lawyers were left to try and argue against the government – the authorities that held all the cards. The defense was able to inspect the computer and present an expert of their own. Sadly, the teacher was convicted on four felony counts. She was later granted a new trial. Rather than face a second trial, she agreed to a plea to a much lesser count.
I have had clients that have come to me after at first representing themselves. They knew they were not guilty of what they were charged with. The natural reaction is to say, “I’ll just go talk to the judge and the D.A. They’ll see this is all a mistake and drop the charges.” In my experience, that rarely, if ever happens. You need to level the playing field with legal representation. I can present your side of the case – to the police, the D.A., the judge or a jury if it gets that far. With my experience, I know what’s missing from the case and why charges should never have been filed in the first place. Were there improper police procedures, such as Miranda violations or illegal searches?
Let me know if I can help.