No “Defense of Others” Defense in Justina Pelletier Hospital Hacking Case

Start at U.S. v. GottesfeldThe First Circuit (Judge Kayatta joined by Judge Howard, Chief Judge Howard, and Judge Lynch) decided in favor of the following:

Martin Gottesfeld and others launched a cyberattack called “Distributed Dilution of Service” against Boston Children’s Hospital and Wayside Youth and Family Support Network. This resulted in both organizations losing their internet access for up to three to four week. Gottesfeld attacked Boston Children’s Hospital and Wayside for their care of Justina Peltier, a child who was in the middle of a custody battle that garnered national attention.

Gottesfeld publicly acknowledged responsibility for the attacks. Intentionally causing damage or loss to protected computers was his charge, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A), and conspiring to do the same, id. § 371. After an eight-day trial, Gottesfeld was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 121 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release….

Gottesfeld contests the order of the district court that prohibits him from using the affirmative defense, known as “defense against another”. A district court can “prevent the presentation [a]defence entirely,” if the defendant doesn’t produce sufficient evidence to “create a triable problem.” …

“Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of … another against the immediate use of unlawful force,” so long as the person “use[s]No more force is necessary than what appears reasonable under the circumstances.

Gottesfeld tried to claim that Gottesfeld’s cyberattack against Boston Children’s and Wayside was justifiable because it was necessary in order to keep Pelletier out of the hands of these institutions. He cited news reports and TV reports that Pelletier was “abused” or “tortured” at Boston Children’s and Wayside. Pelletier’s custody proceedings might have been “compromise” according to Gottesfeld. Pelletier’s parents also contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (and other law enforcement agencies) regarding Pelletier’s situation but to no avail.

These evidence might support the conclusion that Gottesfeld believed Pelletier was in some danger of harm. He does not present any evidence to show that Gottesfeld reasonably believed Pelletier was at risk of being subjected to immediate illegal force. Contrary to what he believed, Gottesfeld knew her custody had been authorized by a court order. Gottesfeld would not be able to hold hostage other people’s internet connections if they believed someone, or any group, was using or threatening unlawful force.

{Gottesfeld says that Pelletier was treated unlawfully during her custody. Gottesfeld didn’t make clear this assertion before the district court, and now only attempts to explain it in his response brief. Even were we to consider this argument, public commentary and opinion comparing Pelletier’s treatment to torture—which is all he cites to support this claim—does not alone support a finding that he reasonably believed that she was in fact being subjected to torture. To rule otherwise would be to empower every citizen with the ability to simultaneously incite and immunize criminal conduct by another even as a judicial tribunal is available to hear the claims of harm.}

Gottesfeld’s methods could not have been deemed reasonable by a jury. Pelletier was subject to custody proceedings and Pelletier received treatment. All allegations made by Gottesfeld were also known to law enforcement officials. Gottesfeld considered the alternative options to action unfeasible. However, we explained previously that inability for a defendant to effect changes through legal remedies does not necessarily mean they cannot be implemented. …