Incredibly, some public officials in Connecticut not only refuse to admit any error, they’re still making their case in public.
The Prosecution of Julie Amero
What the railroading of a teacher by technically inept police and prosecutors reveals about the criminal justice system
Radley Balko | December 12, 2008
In October 2004, Julie Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, was teaching a seventh grade language class. While Amero was using a laptop computer—one accessible to both students and teacher—the computer began spinning off pop-up ads for pornographic websites. Amero concedes she was checking her email and surfing the Internet while she was supposed to be teaching. Perhaps that makes her a bad substitute teacher (though she had taught at the school for a year and a half without incident). But it doesn’t make her a sex offender.
Yet in January 2007 Amero was convicted on four counts on the ambiguous charge of "risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child." Her ridiculous prosecution is the product of a Puritanical, zero tolerance hysteria; stubborn, obstinate police and prosecutors; and a criminal justice system that hasn’t adequately adapted to modern technology.
Prosecutors in the case improbably contended that Amero—who had no prior criminal record and was seven months pregnant at the time—intentionally exposed her class of seventh-graders to Internet pornography. She faced up to 40 years in prison.
Even if Amero had knowingly and willingly exposed her middle school class to pornography, she should at worst have lost her job, and perhaps faced a fine and revocation of her teaching license. That she could have spent most of the rest of her life in prison says she was either over-charged, or was charged with a ridiculously stupid law. Probably both.
But Amero insists she never intended for her class to be an Internet-abetted lesson in sex education, and there’s plenty of reason to believe her. She says she panicked when a loop of unwanted pop-up ads from porn sites began to appear while she was using the computer in front of her students. The more Amero frantically tried to close the ads, the more they kept springing up—a problem not at all uncommon on computers lacking up-to-date firewalls and virus protection.
What’s particularly troubling about Amero’s case isn’t necessarily the technical ignorance of the police and prosecutors—though that's troubling enough—but the fact that their ignorance seems almost willful. The state pointed out at trial that the school had put filtering software on its computers. But the school had also let the licenses for that software expire. It would have taken no more than a phone call with the Best Buy "Geek Squad" to learn that if filtering software isn’t updated, it's quickly rendered useless.