Trial Starts in Case of UCF Professor Who Says Virus Put Child Porn on Computer

October 25, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

Longtime observers of Florida crime and Internet issues may remember the case of Michael Shawn Reichert, a professor at the University of Central Florida who is charged with possession of child pornography. University authorities arrested Reichert, who teaches political science, after computer maintenance employees found the pornography on his work computer. There were 138 images in all, including three videos. This case caught my eye, as an Orlando cyber crime criminal defense attorney, because Reichert claims the pornography was put there by a computer virus. Now, as WESH reported Oct. 25, Reichert’s trial is starting and he is likely to continue using this defense.

According to articles written at the time of Reichert’s 2007 arrest, Reichert brought the images to the attention of the university computer technicians. WFTV reported that Reichert told a computer technician that spyware, a kind of malicious computer program, put the pornography on the machine and he wanted it gone. The technician spotted files with names suggesting that they contained child pornography and turned the computer over to investigators who confirmed it. A spokesman for UCF police told WESH that the pornography “does not look like a fluke” because it was downloaded on many separate occasions. Central Florida Future, UCF’s student newspaper, added that the images had been backed up to a handheld device, with the username “reicher” involved somehow. Reichert faces 138 counts of child pornography possession.

I don’t doubt that some observers think Reichert is lying about the spyware. As a West Palm Beach cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I’m happy to say that this can be investigated and often proven, with help from a computer forensics expert. Assuming the technicians and investigators did not wipe the computer or its backup, or tamper with it significantly, Reichert can hire an expert to look through the machine for evidence that it really did have spyware, or another malicious program that could have put pornography there. (According to a report from last year, child pornography viewers use such viruses to put the pornography on a third party’s computer, where they can view it without having it on their own machines.) In the past, I have seen a few cases where defendants were able to prove this, for example, by showing that the illegal material was downloaded more quickly than a human being could do it.

Unfortunately, guilty defendants often claim a virus was responsible, so investigators are often inclined not to listen even when the evidence backs the defendant up. Even more unfortunately, not every defendant can afford to hire the experts needed to defend themselves. Everyone accused of a crime in the United States has the right to a fair trial, but there is no right to hire an expert to do the research and give the testimony necessary to prove the defendant’s innocence. This is why it’s so important for defendants to get experienced representation from a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney like me. Even before I founded my own law firm, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Cyber Crime Unit of the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office. That means I know how evidence from a computer forensic investigation can turn around a case.

If you’re accused of child pornography possession or another serious cyber crime in California, don’t wait before you call Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. To learn more or set up a free, confidential consultation, call us anytime -- 24 hours a day and seven days a week -- at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.