TJX hacker mulls Asperger's defense
Move over, McKinnon
The international hacker who has admitted to stealing more than 130 million payment card numbers has mounted a new defense claim that he might suffer from Asperger's syndrome, a court filing indicates.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Albert Gonzalez filed a report from a forensic psychologist that questioned the criminal hacker's "capacity to knowingly evaluate the wrongfulness of his actions and consciously behave lawfully and avoid crime," according to federal prosecutors. The report went on to state that his "behavior was consistent with description of the Asperger's disorder."
Gonzalez becomes the latest hacker under prosecution to raise the Asperger's defense in arguing for leniency. Most notably, NASA hacker Gary McKinnon has cited the Autism-related disorder in fighting extradition to the US to face computer trespass charges. UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson has repeatedly rejected claims raised by McKinnon's attorneys and supporters and has indicated he will not stop the forced transfer.
In August, convicted hacker Viachelav Berkovich received two years less than the minimum called for under federal sentencing guidelines after the judge in the case took the disability into consideration as a mitigating factor.
The judge hearing Gonzalez's case has canceled a December 21 sentencing hearing, according to an entry made Wednesday on a federal court website. It's unclear when a new hearing will be held.
People with Asperger's are said to display behavior that's repetitive and restricted, and they also show social awkwardness and an inability to empathize. The link between Asperger's and crime, however, has been disputed by some researchers.
Word of Gonzalez's new defense was made in a government motion filed Tuesday to delay sentencing and was reported earlier by Wired.com.
Wired.com went on to report that Gonzalez has identified two Russian accomplices who helped him hack into numerous companies. The hackers, identified for the first time by the handles "Grigg" and "Annex," have breached at least four card processing companies and a variety of foreign banks, according to a sentencing memo filed by defense attorneys.
The information was intended to remain confidential, but because of a redaction error, it was available by electronically cutting the document contents and pasting them into a new file.
Gonzalez has provided the government with "extensive information" to prosecutors, including the names of people he was close to who are suspected of breaking the law. According to Wired.com, he also drew prosecutors a map that helped them find more than $1.1m that had been buried in is parents' backyard. Much more is available here. ®
Aspies understand right and wrong better than lawyers
I know 3 people with Asperger's and they're all quite capable of understanding the difference between right in wrong. In fact due to the OCD-type symptoms they tend to spend excessive hours pondering and questioning their own actions in minute detail. Asperger's prevents sufferers from empathising with others' state of mind and motivations. It does not stop them understanding basic moral principles.
A close friend of mine has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and I agree with you wholeheartedly. My friend might not be the life of parties and certainly has some difficulties relating to people but he definitely knows the difference between legal and illegal. These bastards using it as a criminal defence demean and undermine the genuine needs of people like my friend who don't need the police and the community at large perceiving their disability as some kind of fabricated excuse for misbehaviour. My friend tries hard to overcome his difficulties and get on with people, and scumbags like this just make his life harder.
What the judges should be able to do in cases like this is, if a defendant claims any disability as a defence, and the crime is demonstrably one that suffering from the disability would not preclude their knowledge of it being a crime, they get double the sentence.
Speaking as an aspie myself, I _do_ know right from wrong, but the social problems can work against this. The "Follow my friends" mentality can negate the "This is wrong" feeling, i.e. we are more susceptible to peer pressure than your average person.
I am not saying it should be used as a defence, after all right == right, and wrong == wrong, just that mixing with the wrong crowd can have a detrimental effect on your liberty.