Last fall, I wrote about Michael Reichert, a former University of Central Florida professor accused of possessing 138 images of child pornography. The case caught my eye as a child porn attorney in part because Reichert was the one who brought the images to the attention of UCF computer technicians. He brought his computer to the technicians, saying the machine had images of child pornography on it, possibly because of a virus, and he would like it to be gone. When technicians confirmed the images were child pornography, they reported the matter to police. Now, the Orlando Sentinel reported Feb. 21, prosecutors in Orange County have dropped all charges against Reichert, saying they cannot prove the images belonged only to him.
Reichert was an assistant professor of political science at UCF when the incident occurred. He spent about two weeks in jail before he could make bail and be released. At the time, authorities said they had discovered that 132 of the 138 images had been backed up to a handheld device of some kind, under the name “reicher.” As a result, Reichert was charged in 2007 with 138 counts of child pornography possession. Nonetheless, Reichert and his criminal defense attorney maintained that he didn’t know how the images got to his computer. It’s not clear whether the prosecution or the defense investigated Reichert’s statement that it may have been a virus, but the Sentinel quoted a spokesperson for the State’s Attorney’s office saying prosecutors couldn’t prove Reichert was the sole owner of the images. Reichert no longer works at the university.
As a child porn lawyer, I’d be interested to know the story behind the prosecution’s change of heart in a case now nearly four years old. The computer with the offending images was a laptop, so it’s not unreasonable to believe it may have been physically in someone else’s hands, with or without Reichert’s permission. There’s also the question of whether Reichert was hacked, which actually can happen; the child pornography community sometimes takes over computers remotely in order to store images in a safe — for them — place. Prosecutors must prove cases beyond a reasonable doubt in order to put someone in prison, so if they believed there was a serious question about whether Reichert owned the images or knew about them, dropping the case was the right thing to do. As a child porn attorney, I think it’s unfortunate that his name is now linked with child porn, something that will undoubtedly lead to trouble finding jobs and other social stigma problems even if he is ultimately cleared of suspicion.