Professor Profile Cooley professor among experts on 'cyber crime'


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Cyberbullying, Internet crime, and social media privacy issues are big news.

And they are right up attorney Patrick Corbett’s alley.

The Detroit native and professor at Cooley Law School is an expert on cyber crime and has an extensive background in criminal law and procedure.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, and law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School, Corbett served as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Horace W. Gilmore.

“I observed many criminal defense attorneys as well as prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan,” he says. “I was so impressed with the work of the prosecutors – from their preparation and work ethic to their fairness and desire to do the right thing – that I sought employment with them as a prosecutor. I’ve never regretted that decision.”

He served as a federal prosecutor for 10 years, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, working in the general crimes unit and economic crimes unit.

In 1999, he was recrui ted by then Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm to help start a High Tech Crime Unit, a component of the Criminal Division. He served two years as Deputy Chief, investigating and prosecuting federal and state Internet and computer-related crimes.

“While I did not have a high tech educational background – I studied political philosophy, Spanish and psychology – I jumped at the opportunity to build something from nothing,” he says.  “It was a wonderful experience that ultimately led to me getting offered a position to teach at Cooley Law School.”    

Corbett, who teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Computer Crimes, also teaches classes to community and law-related groups, explaining how laws can protect kids using the Internet, and can also be used to prosecute people for conduct online. He discusses the use of other high tech devices and possible legal consequences of misuse.

“Nearly everyone is online – from young kids to senior citizens. Consequently, more and more crime is committed over the Internet and with the use of high tech devices. Since law enforcement seems to always be experiencing budget issues, it’s important for all of us to be aware of ways to keep ourselves out of trouble.”

He warns of the dangers of online social networking.

“There’s no such thing as anonymity,” he says. “You don't know what someone could do with what you post.

“Awareness of the law and potential problems related to the Internet and high tech devices is essential. Just because the technology works does not mean that everything one does with the technology is legal.

“It’s long been the general rule in criminal law that mistake of law is not a defense. In other words, saying ‘I didn't know it was against the law’ will not work. We’re all presumed to know the law. As such, it makes sense to be as educated as possible in this growing area.”

There are many interesting cases, he says, including the recent People v. Flick, where the Michigan Supreme Court decided defendants can be guilty of ‘knowing possession’ of child sexually abusive material – also known as child pornography – even when the ‘only child sexually abusive material later found on their computers, however, had been automatically stored in temporary Internet files.’

“This clearly broadens the reach of what is ‘possession’ under the law – giving prosecutors more tools to work with in pursuing sex offenders,” he says.

Corbett was initially drawn to law after reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school.


“I suspect Atticus Finch is the motivator for quite a few high school kids – he was a compassionate and hard-working lawyer who dearly wanted to help others,” he says.

“I had the opportunity as a junior in high school to participate in a 2-week government/law program at Olivet College. I played the role of a legislator as well as a prosecutor and it had a lasting impression on me.”

Corbett hopes to make that same kind of lasting impression on his law students.

“I love the interaction – from the initial stages of comprehending the material to the overwhelming enthusiasm students have for the subject matter,” he says.

“Teaching in the classroom is the best part of my job. Every day and every class is unique thanks to the uniqueness of each and every student.”