A number of members of the Julie Group were paying attention to protracted case of Star Simpson. Of interest was how the judicial system in Massachusetts would handle the case of a college student sporting a decorative wearable computing device that was mistaken as a potential terrorist threat by local airport authorities.
Mit's The Tech newspaper in an article called, Star Simpson Receives Pretrial Probation
by Joyce Kwan reported,
An East Boston District Court judge sentenced Simpson to one year of supervised pretrial probation on a charge of disorderly conduct and ordered her to perform 50 hours of community service, half of which much be completed with veterans, and to publicly announce that she had made a mistake.And...
“I want to apologize for the results of my conduct on September 21, 2007. Although I never intended to act in a disorderly fashion, I now realize that the shirt I created caused alarm and concern at Logan Airport,” Simpson said in a statement released Monday by her attorney, Thomas E. Dwyer, Jr. “I am appreciative to the Massachusetts State Police for their diligence in protecting our citizens and apologize for the expense that was caused that day.”
Simpson was originally charged with “possession of a hoax device,” a charge which would require prosecutors to show she meant to scare people with her circuit board, which contained light-emitting diodes in the shape of a star. But they “determined that they could not move forward on that count and dismissed it to the disorderly [conduct] charge,” according to a press release supplied by Wark.Apparently this resolution is satisfactory by both sides but from the perspective of an interested observer, the public declaration that Simpson had "made a mistake" looks to be prosecutorial coercion.
Unfortunate as the incident was, Simpson had not made any mistake to speak of. While her university garb certainly frightened airport security, it is a difficult argument to make that Simpson or anyone else might know, a priori, that an LED device would be treated with near deadly force except the airport information administrator who translated teenage belligerence into a potential terrorist threat.
The feel-good one-upsmanship of the prosecution in this case is childish and demeaning to those who care about establishing civil operating procedures in sensitive public places. Simpson's apology for being young and impulsive will not prevent the next teen from being young and impulsive.
A smarter judicial system would have Simpson's community service be served at an airport educating information officers on what to look for in dangerous devices and what to ignore. And the airport itself would do well to re-examine the responses of information personnel to situations such as Simpson's.
One must also question the court's insistence that Simpson's community service "half of which much be completed with veterans". Why veterans? Why not active armed agents who can meet and talk to the person they were about to kill because an airport greeter got their nose out of joint? This would be a far more productive use of Simpson's time.
It is hard to understand why the court is establishing separate class distinctions in the defining community service. It seems to me that the community and not the courts should establish the guidelines to Simpson's service.
The final troubling footnote to this episode is that
During the time between her arrest and the June 2 hearing, Simpson was banned from Massport property, including Logan Airport, and had to fly out of other New England airports. “It also meant I couldn’t attend the international symposium on wearable computing, as it was held at the Hyatt at Logan Airport,” Simpson said in an e-mail to The Tech.This implies that the rule of law is suspended for those who are awaiting trial even though there sufficient evidence that the incident is an unfortunate mistake by all involved.
It is unclear who issued the ban. Wark said the district attorney’s office had not requested this restriction. Dwyer could not be reached by press time.
It is of special interest to know how the rights of American citizens awaiting trial can be suspended so mysteriously.