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The Changing Landscape Of Computer Crime Charges And Sentencing

As part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Congress sought to revamp the criminal code to reflect the rise of computers. Specifically, Congress sought to make crimes using the internet and computer networks illegal. With mail and wire fraud statutes already on the books, Congress sought additional tools specifically targeting this new era of technological advancement. One such tool is Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030, which targets fraud and related activity in connection with computers and is a comprehensive statute outlining various computer criminal offenses.

As a criminal defense attorney who has an extensive successful history of helping clients achieve a favorable outcome, I, Peter Katz, may be able to help you. Criminal charges are scary, as there is a grave potential for serious and life-altering sentencing. I offer a free consultation so that you can better understand exactly what you are facing and what your legal options are. Call the Law Offices of Peter Katz at 609-900-2648 to arrange a meeting with me.

Provisions Of The Computer Statute

As noted, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030 includes a litany of criminal offenses related to the use of computers. Here are some of those provisions:

  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(a)(1): Makes it a crime for one to knowingly access a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access to commit espionage
  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(a)(2): Bars one from intentionally accessing a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access and obtaining governmental, financial or information from a “protected computer”
  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(a)(3): Bans trespassing on a government computer
  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(a)(4): Prevents one from using a “protected computer” without authorization or exceeding authorized access to commit fraud
  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(a)(5): Restricts one from knowingly causing intentional damage to a “protected computer”

What Is A ‘Computer’ Under The Statues?

Under this provision, a “computer” is defined as “an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical or other high-speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic or storage functions and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device.” In short, any technological device – whether it be a laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone or other smart tool – is considered a computer under the statute.

What Makes A Computer ‘Protected’ Under The Statutes?

Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030(e)(2) defines “protected computer” as a computer that is one of the following:

  • Exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the U.S. government or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the U.S. government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the government
  • Used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication

In short, a protected computer is one used by a financial institution (bank) or the U.S. government or one used in interstate or foreign commerce. The statute does not require the defendant to use the computer. However, if the device has an internet connection, then the definition is met.

In some cases, prosecutors will include a charge of conspiracy, even if an unlawful act was not committed.

Computer Crime Penalties

The penalties for computer crimes differ depending on the offense, though it is not uncommon for Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030 violations to include significant federal prison terms and monetary fines. For example, accessing someone else’s device without their permission is a misdemeanor offense that comes with a possible one-year jail sentence and a $100,000 fine. If that impermissible use was done to commit fraud exceeding $5,000, the crime jumps to felony status, making it punishable by a five-year federal prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Another possible enhancement occurs if the damage was done to the computer. You may face related charges such as mail or wire fraud.

The Importance Of Attaining Legal Counsel

The mere threat of federal criminal charges is debilitating. The possibility of spending time behind bars and having to pay a significant fine is not something one wants to endure. You might feel as if you have nowhere to turn and feel compelled to plead guilty. That is not the case. Take the time to review the materials you have, whether it be an indictment or subpoena, and begin to consider hiring legal counsel.

As a former federal and state prosecutor, I know the ins and outs of criminal defense. By engaging with defense counsel during the early stages of the investigation, the more leverage one has in crafting their defense. Find out more about the cases and the clients I have represented.

Work With An Experienced White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney

I have nearly 30 years of legal experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. When I take your case, you become the most important client I have. Call the Law Offices of Peter Katz at 609-900-2648 to arrange a free consultation with me. You can also reach my firm via website contact email. I serve clients in both New York and New Jersey.