Computing Cases Header, Picture of a Keyboard with the text "" printed over it

Case Material

Case Navigation

Machado Case

Teaching Intro

Machado Case History

Socio-Technical Analysis

Ethical Analysis


Supporting Documents



Teaching Tools

Teaching with Cases

Social Impact Analysis

Computer Ethics Curriculum

Curricula Index

Case Materials



Hughes Aircraft

Ethics in Computing Links

Contact Us


Portions of the case narrative in this case contain extremely offensive language! Please use judgment in deciding to read this or in deciding to expose others to reading it.


This overview of the Machado case provides a reasonably succinct summary of the case. The case materials in the case section provide more detail, but stop on the weekend after Machado sent his email. We repeat some of the information from the case section for context. But this document follows the case to its eventual resolution in US courts.

Richard Machado, at age 19, was the first individual to be convicted of a federal electronic mail (email) hate crime. Much attention is currently being drawn to the social and ethical implications surrounding email and Internet usage. The Machado case is one example of a handful of similar incidents that have occurred since the advent of the Internet.

On September 20th, 1996, Machado sent a threatening hate message to 59 Asian students at UCI (University of California at Irvine), via email. The "To:" field in the following email has been omitted in order to protect the privacy of individual recipients. You can see the email message with all its SMTP headers (but not recipients) in the case section.

Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1996 10:58:55 -0700

From: "Mother Fucker (Hates Asians)" <>

To: {recipient list omitted to protect privacy of individuals}

Subject: FUck You Asian Shit

Hey Stupid Fucker

As you can see in the name, I hate Asians, including you. If it weren’t for asias at UCI, it would be a much more popular campus. You are responsible for ALL the crimes that occur on campus. YOU are why I want you and your stupid ass comrades to get the fuck out ofUCI. IF you don’t I will hunt you down and kill your stupid asses. Do you hear me? I personally will make it my life carreer to find and kill everyone one of you personally. OK?????? That’s how determined I am.

Get the fuck out,

MOther FUcker (Asian Hater)


Machado did not receive any immediate response to the email, so he sent it again within a few minutes. Recipients of the email were alarmed by its content. Several students emailed the OAC (Office of Academic Computing, formerly–now the NACS, or Networking and Academic Computing Services) on campus, alerting staff to the incident. The Associate Director of the OAC, with the assistance of student employees, was able to identify Machado as the sender. They traced the computer from which the emails were being sent, and found Machado at that particular computer in the computing lab. Machado was asked to leave. Surveillance cameras in the computer lab later confirmed that Machado was in fact the person responsible for the two threatening email messages.

Following the incident, Machado was reported to the University of California, Irvine Police Department, and an officer was assigned to the case on September 24th, 1996. On September 28th, the officer telephoned Machado's residence, and left a message after he was told that Machado was not home. Machado returned the officer's call later that day, and the two agreed to meet at 5 p.m. When asked about the emails, Machado reported sending them out of "frustration", because the predominance of Asians on campus made it less popular, because Asians raised the grading curve, and because he disliked his Asian roommate. Machado said he felt that Asians "prospered" more in school, and that he just wanted to scare them a little--he never intended actual physical harm. Following the meeting, Machado was charged with "knowingly and without permission using computer services." Machado's trial was set for November 25th, 1996. Machado then agreed to participate in several public forums in which he apologized for his action. He attended these forums and did, in fact, apologize at them.

A few days later, Richard Machado received a call from his brother, asking about an article in the local paper in which Machado was identified as being responsible for an email hate crime. Machado denied his involvement, claiming that the perpetrator must have been someone else with a similar name. Shortly thereafter, Machado disappeared. On November 14th, 1996, a stolen vehicle report was filed at the Police Department for the City of Irvine. The report described Machado as having taken his roommate's car without asking. Machado had allegedly told one roommate that he was borrowing the other roommate's car, and that the other roommate had approved this. The roommate had not in fact given permission, nor had he been aware that Machado was using the car.

On November 18th, 1996, the FBI joined in aiding the investigation of the stolen car. An FBI agent appointed to the case went to Machado's residence and was told by roommates that Machado had not been seen since he had left with his roommate's car keys on the 14th. Machado had lived at this residence since October 1st, 1996. In that time, Machado had also been suspected of other incidents: 1) $80 was missing from a third roommate's coin jar; 2) $154 Visa charges had been made to the roommate's card, of which $54 were unauthorized phone calls on November 10th, 11th and 12th, 1996. Between November 21st and 23rd, 1996, the FBI investigated the case by interviewing the second roommate and Tammy Machado, Richard Machado's sister-in-law. Tammy was told that if Richard did not appear for his court date on November 25th, 1996, a warrant for his arrest would be issued. She said that if anyone in the family hears from Richard, they would encourage him to show up for court.

Machado did not appear at the November 25th court date. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but the investigation could not proceed in his absence. Finally, on February 6th, 1997, Richard Machado was arrested. A United States Immigrations Inspector caught Machado attempting to cross the border at Nogalas, Arizona back into the U.S. from Mexico, where Machado had allegedly been looking for construction work. He later testified in court that he had fled to Mexico after hearing that he could receive 10 years in prison for sending the email messages. A United States Customs Inspector was also present. Machado was reported appearing homeless and without any possessions. Following the arrest, a new trial date was set for September 16th , 1997. Machado was charged with 10 counts of violating the Federally Protected Activities Act of 1968 that makes it a crime to use race, ethnicity or nationality to interfere with a federally protected activity (in this case, students attending a public university).

On November 11th, 1997, Machado’s actual trial began, but a recess was granted when new information was uncovered; the court had been presented with questionnaires that had been given to the victims of Machado’s email, in which 9 of the students said that they had not been overtly bothered by the email. Thus, the trial was delayed until the following Wednesday, November 18th. However, the jury was deadlocked on this day, 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal. A mistrial was declared. A second trial was set for January 27th, 1998, when the case was declared to have national importance by federal prosecutors. A conviction could lead to establishment of legal standards for conduct on the Internet. If it were successful, it would be the first time a conviction was obtained for a person committing an email hate crime under federal hate crime laws.

Throughout the trial, various pieces of information concerning Machado’s background emerged as useful evidence. In the fall of 1995, Machado had sent an email threat to the New University newspaper at UCI using his roommate’s computer. Although Machado was traced to be the sender, his roommate allegedly took the blame. Throughout the following year leading up to his second email hate crime, Machado experienced some personal problems. His eldest brother was killed in an armed robbery. His grades were failing as a result of his difficulty dealing with the death, and Machado was dismissed from school. He continued to tell his parents that he was still a student for three months, though, because he was the first child in his family to attend college and felt pressure to do well.

The defense in the trial portrayed Machado as a troubled and bored student who was simply trying to gain attention by his behavior. Machado’s email looked a great deal like what are called "flames" in the Internet community (much profanity, lots of capital letters), and are usually taken as irritating and impolite, but not illegal behavior. The prosecution pointed out the direct threats of death; the fact that the email was not sent to a mailing list, but to a group of individuals with Asian names, individually identified; to Machado’s history of sending email death threats; and to the impact of the threats on the lives of some of the recipients. The defense pointed out that only 10 of the 49 people took the threat seriously enough to want to press charges. Several of the recipients had stated, in response to a police questionnaire, that Machado has a "right to his opinion" and that the email was "no big deal" to them.

On February 13th, 1998, just 3 weeks from the start of the second trial, Machado was found guilty on 2 counts of civil rights violations. Following his conviction, Machado was released on a $10,000 bond from custody, but was soon turned over to Irvine police on pending auto theft charges. Machado’s sentencing was postponed until April 10th, 1998. He was sentenced to serve1 year in prison. Machado had already spent 1 year in jail awaiting his trials, and so was free to go. Machado was placed on probation, fined $1,000, required to attend anger and racial tolerance counseling, was not allowed on the UCI campus, was to have no contact with the victims, and was banned from computer usage on the UCI campus. He later violated his probation, and was sentenced to spend four months in a federal halfway house. At last report, Machado was living in Long Beach CA (a neighboring community) with his mother and working for a temporary employment agency.