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U.S. v. Pruitt

The aim of the research is to discover the court case, including computer forensic evidence or cybercrime law issues. For this research, the case the U.S. vs Milton Scott Pruitt was chosen, which took place in 2008. For this purpose, the reports from the courts, the examination reports, and articles in the periodicals were used for the collection of information. On 15 April, John David Rusk noticed a suspicious activity on the Department’s server. He found out that Milton Scott Pruitt used a remote location to access the photos of child pornography character.

Soon, the government held an investigation to find the evidence of the guiltiness of the Defendant. Pruitt was convicted on two counts under 18 U.S.C. §?2252A(a)(2)(A):

  • The first one was for accessing child pornography images on his work computer
  • The second one was for viewing pornography pictures on his home computer.

Pruitt’s arguments were weak and did not reassure the jury. They included:

  • No evidence that he was at home, when pictures were downloaded
  • The low quality of the audio of the interview between him and the officers.

As a result, he was sentenced to:

  • 98 months imprisonment for each count
  • 10 years of supervised release without the right for amnesty.

Background

Firstly, there is a need to review the background of the case. Milton Scott Pruitt, 41, was a deputy sheriff in the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department. On 15 March, according to the evidence, Pruitt used his in-car laptop to view child pornography photos, stored as the evidence on the Forsyth County Server for a case including such kind of crime. On 16 April, John-David Rusk, an Information Technology employee of the County Government of Forsyth, Georgia, discovered the child pornography searches. First, he noticed a suspicious activity of using the Internet on the Forsyth County Server.1 He researched remote connections and observed some users, including Pruitt. When Rusk opened MSPruitt profile and accidentally chose to watch oldest pictures, he was shocked by the images, which he found. They were thumbnail images of a sexual character, accessed from the Pruitt’s account. Rusk immediately connected with Chief Hamrick to obtain the information whether Pruitt was allowed to view these pictures. However, it was found out that Pruitt accessed images without permission. The Defendant did not have any work-related purpose for overlooking these pictures. Moreover, the pictures were signed “CP”, which related to the Child Pornography, so Pruitt knew about the content of the images.

During the interview held by a County investigator and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s special agent, Pruitt confirmed that he accessed photos just because of “curiosity” and “stupidity”.2 Then the Defendant gave the permission for officers to search his computer, which the agent did immediately.

Moreover, the agent searched the workplace computer and Defendant’s laptop. He carefully explored all these three devices. He examined cache3, cookies from Web browsers, Recent Documents, Program Files, and folders with images. In addition, he explored desktop, USB-drivers, and session from the remote connections. The agent received the following results. First, the Panasonic Toughbook laptop issued to Pruitt did not have any child pornography pictures or any other abusing images. Therefore, this point did not support government’s charge that Pruitt has used his work-issued computer for searching and viewing child pornography pictures. Except the search item “weird al ebony and ivory parody” on December 14, 2006, there was found no evidence to support the count two, which said that the Defendant used his work-related computer for his personal interests and broke his oath to perform his professional obligations. Then, the agent found the evidence that remote location was constantly used from Pruitt’s work computer, including the 15 March 2007. However, the evidence of using this connection for personal interests was not found. Thus, this examination did not support the charge of the use of remote connection related to work for private interests and the violation of the Defendants’ oath. Therefore, Pruitt’s wireless connection was connected only with his work obligations. Also, there was found a session from the in-car laptop, using remote connection but no evidence of the content of it was found. The only evidence, which the agent saw, was two screen shots from My Recent Documents Folder in MSPruitt profile. However, these two screen shots did not match to each other, so they could not be used as strong evidence. No search items from this laptop were relevant to child abuse. In addition, there was no evidence that Pruitt used this work-issued machine for his personal interests. The agent also found evidence that some USB drivers were connected to the computer. However, their storage content was not related to the issue. Furthermore, the agent did not find any child pornography images in an allocated space on the Pruitt’s residence computer. However, in the unallocated4 place of this computer, the agent found 63 images of the abusing character. All of them were cached because of the Internet activity. Thus, the officer did not explore any evidence that proved that Pruitt knowingly viewed, received, or possessed any of the images of child pornography found in unallocated space. In addition, there was an evidence, that Jami Suddeth used the in-car laptop of the Defendant. He did that several times, including the moment, which was associated with the deleting of the child pornography images.

Discussion of the Government’s Arguments

The Defendant was convicted on two counts under 18 U.S.C. §?2252A(a)(2)(A). One was for accessing child pornography images on his work computer and another one was for viewing child pornography on his home computer. The 18 U.S.C. §?2252A(a)(2)(A) prohibits “knowingly perceiving” the photos of such character. However, he was acquitted of the “knowingly possessing” by the jury. The prosecution held an investigation carefully before the imposition of the charge. That helped to collect all necessary proofs and present them to the jury. Therefore, its arguments were compelling and indisputable. Furthermore, the prosecution emphasized the ethical problem of the case, which included the child abuse. Due to its unmoral character, such kind of crimes attracts close attention of media and law enforcement structures. A child protection organization had a sophisticated impact on this case, which carefully observed the investigation and the court. The burdening factor was that Pruitt was a representative of the law enforcement structure and had a sophisticated position. Therefore, he violated the oath and used his official possibilities for the private interests. The government provided convincing evidence, which proved the guiltiness of the Defendant. However, due to the lack of evidence he was acquitted on the other charge. Thus, the justification under the 18 U.S.C. §?2252A(a)(2)(B), which prohibits “knowingly possessing”, is the proof of the justice and the impartiality of the government. The attorney outlined in her closing, “this whole process should be a search for the truth, not a search for excuses. And the truth in this case is the defendant was ‘just curious.’ And ‘just curious’ means just guilty”.5

Discussion of the Defense’s Arguments

The main argument of the Defendant was that the jury did not represent any ponderable evidence on “knowingly receiving” on his home computer. Pruitt’s attorney claimed that there was no evidence that the Pruitt was at home, when those pictures were downloaded. Moreover, he tried to transfer the blame on the Trojan virus, which was the reason for the thumbnail pictures found on the Pruitt’s computer. The version of the virus failed because of the fact that there was found the evidence of viewing child pornography pictures in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Therefore, the Defendant repeated his guilty actions during a long period. Furthermore, the attorney underlined the poor quality of the audio in the interview between the Defendant and the investigators. Pruitt continued to insist on the fact that he opened those pictures just for the “curiosity”. However, Pruitt did not have any work-related purpose of viewing those pictures. Furthermore, the pictures were signed with letters CP, which meant Child Pornography. Thus, he knew about the content of those images. Furthermore, the Defendant did not present any evidence, which could prove his innocence. He did not explain the existence of those thumbnail pictures and 63 downloaded images on his computer. Moreover, he did not give explanations about pornography content of his Web browser search items. All of his arguments were not convincing enough to reassure the jury and to prove his innocence. Trying to avoid the punishment, instead of the accepting of his guilt, did not help the Defendant. In such way, he inclined the jury against him. That is why he was sentenced so strict, even without the right for amnesty.

Discussion of the Relevant Federal, State, or Case Laws that Decided the Case

The next step is to explore the law mentioned above. If one has pictures of child-pornography character on the computer, one is violating the Federal Statue Law. In such a way, the person has committed the crime. The government emphasizes the fact that keeping and viewing the images of such character on the workplace should be persecuted too. The law enforcement structures ask employers to report about the cases when such materials are found on worker’s computer. The development of such law has begun with the expanding of information technologies when anybody has got an unlimited access to the Internet. It was supported by the child protection organizations. Their aim is to guarantee the compliance of the children’ rights. The law enforcement structures pay close attention to such kind of crimes and always hold a careful and meticulous investigation. Furthermore, when the defendant’s guiltiness is proved, the government provides strict punishment. The violation of this law has a sophisticated impact on the defendant’s life. Once people are suspected, they can irrevocably lose their reputation. In such a way, just one click on the mouse can ruin person’s life. It leads to such consequences as losing of the work position, divorce, losing the respect of environmental society. That is why, it is important to know what this law says and which measures should be taken to avoid violation of it.

18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A) says, “Any person who … knowingly receives or distributes … any child pornography that has been mailed, or shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer [shall be punished]”.6 Knowingly receiving means the intention to view, download, spread, and acquire a child pornography pictures on a computer from an outside source. Innocent receiving of such kind of pictures is not a violation of the statute. The judges should recognize cases when the user receives the child abusing photos accidently or due to the work of hackers. It is a necessary condition for avoiding situations of the prosecution of innocent persons. Therefore, all proofs of the case should be carefully learned and brought to attention.

Moreover, the investigation of such crime has some more difficulties. The law enforcement structures often face with the problem to find evidence that exactly defendant was using the computer when the crime was committed. If the company does not practice the constant cleaning of hard drivers and memory, there is a risk for a new employee to be caught with materials, which were saved by his predecessor. If on worker’s screen suddenly appears a picture with illegal content, in most cases he will just close the program. Therefore, this record can stay in the cache memory and in the future can lead to the unwanted results. The best solution in such situation is to immediately call the employer and explain to him what has happened and to ask him to make an appropriate record. Even if there will not be such investigation that is a good idea to avoid future charges.

In the given case, the Defendant did not take any affirmative action to save child pornography pictures on the computer. However, on 15 March, Pruitt accessed the Departmental server to view the pornography images of children without the work-related aim, using the remote location. Later, he admitted the fact of knowing which character those images had. This evidence is strong enough to accuse him of “knowingly receiving” child pornography images on his work computer without any doubts.

Concerning the second count, involving the Defendant’s home computer, there were found 63 images related to the issue. In addition, in the browser history, the agent found such search results as “nude boy” and “pre-teen” among others. However, the Defendant’s computer forensic expert was trying to prove that the virus was the reason for appearing of such pictures. Nevertheless, the jury had no obligation to discover this condition. Therefore, there is a significant evidence, which proves the fact that the Defendant has viewed and sought out the child pornography images. To sum up, the jury could conclude without any reasonable doubt that Pruitt was responsible and guilty for “knowingly receiving” the child pornography images.

The second law, which was mentioned above is the 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(b)(2)(A), which prohibits knowingly possessing. It says that anyone, who knowingly possesses or accesses a periodical, magazine, video, or book with the intention to view pictures of abusing character, is violating the law. Furthermore, it is not important the way in which the defendant gets those materials. It can be mailed, or transported using the means of long-distance communication. Also, the producing the child pornography pictures, using the materials, which were got with the help of any of the ways mentioned above, should be punished too and considered as a crime. Due to the given case, the prosecution did not find enough evidence to support the charge under this law, so the Defendant was acquitted on this count.

The Outcome of the Case

Only two months after Pruitt’s prosecution, he was fired from his position. His reputation was ruined. Naturally, due to the specifics of the Defendant’s job, an administration did not want to see him among its employees anymore. However, Pruitt did not take his dismissal to his attention and became a candidate for the position of a Sheriff. These fact shocked local inhabitants. During his campaign, he did not answer the questions about child pornography images. Consequently, he managed to receive only 8% of the votes when his opponent7 took the 85%. After the beginning of the process, he was immediately delivered under the detention. The jury begun their discussion at 5 p.m. and two days later announced their verdict. As a result, Pruitt was sentenced to 98 months imprisonment for each count and ten years of supervised release without the right for amnesty. This case attached the attention of mass media and several articles appeared in periodicals.

Thus, the results of Pruitt’s crime had an influence not only on his personal life but also on the society, in general. Pruitt did not commit actions, which aimed at stealing someone’s money or doing bank transactions. Therefore, his activity did not have an impact on the economy and brought no losses. Moreover, his computer crime was not about hacking the websites of private or state level, spreading of the viruses and spams or organizing a terrorist act. However, it does not make his crime look favorable. It is an example of the negative application of the usage of the modern technologies. This kind of crimes became possible only after appearance and development of computers. Anyone is free to access the Internet and use it in personal interests. Therefore, it is difficult to prove, that the ordinary session did not contain some of kind of the criminal character. The cons of his crime are the fact that his activity was against the most helpless part of society – children. Spreading and accepting of the fact of existing child pornography is a moral decay factor. The society, in which this phenomenon exists, is determined to cease its existence. The person, who is guilty in such kind of crime, or just does that at home, without being punishment, does not deserve to be the part of society and to have freedom. That is why, the law enforcement structures, including FBI, carefully investigates and strictly pushes the guilty of such crimes. In spite of the complexities, which are connected with an investigation of cyber-crimes, the law enforcement structures do not stop their work on the protection of the population and its democracy rights. To avoid the spreading of the crimes, which are related to the child pornography, the government provide a severe penalty for them. Nonetheless, strict punishments do not help. Articles about the cases of spreading and viewing child pornography images constantly appear on periodicals and on the internet. The severe punishments do not stop the criminals from this area. That is why, new measures should be taken by the government. The society organizations, especially ones, who is aimed to protect children, also do not close their eyes on such cases. Moreover, the aggravating condition is the fact that Pruitt was a representative of law enforcement structures. His purpose had to be the protection and guaranteeing of the democratic rights. However, he became the criminal and the source of the illegal activity instead of preventing it. Furthermore, he did not accept his guiltiness and during the court, he underlined his innocence and making that just because of curiosity. He tried to transfer his guilt to other subjects, as the viruses. Also, he wanted to deny his answers on the interview with the officers, insisting on the fact that audio from it had a low quality. The repentance is a necessary condition of moral improvement. It gives the chance for guilty to take back his reputation and return to his place in society. Unfortunately, it did not take a place in a given case. Pruitt did not accept the justice of his sentence and tried to appeal it. Naturally, that he did not manage it and the jury declined his appeal. Thus, he had to pay his penalty fully. Thus, he deserved this strict punishment and was rightly convicted. Probably, after the years of imprisonment, he will turn into another person with kind intentions and deeds and his moral appearance will come better.