Computers are part of our everyday lives. Most of us carry a computer around with us everywhere in the form of a mobile phone. Phones are used for communicating, working, and keeping our finances in order. It is no surprise that with the increased everyday use of computers, computer crimes are also becoming more prevalent. Unfortunately, innocent people can be accused of committing crimes when someone else has used someone else's computer, identity, or computer network.
Computer crimes in California can lead to serious jail time and expensive fines. Computer crimes can also lead to federal criminal charges. If you have been accused of internet crimes or computer crimes, talk to your experienced East Bay criminal defense attorney to understand your rights.
Crimes Involving the Use of Computers in California
Most computer crimes in California are motivated by money. This includes types of computer fraud or theft. Common computer crimes can include the following:
- Identity Theft
- Credit Card Fraud
- Insurance Fraud
- Stealing financial data
- Denial of Service (DOS) attacks
- Use of Malware
Unlawful Use of a Computer
These crimes may involve multiple criminal charges (for both California and federal criminal violations). However, a catch-all criminal statute in California falls under Penal Code 502(c). Under this statute, it is a crime to knowingly use a computer or computer system to commit a crime. This includes the use of a computer without permission to:
- Defraud, deceive, extort, or wrongfully obtain money, property, or data;
- Copy, take, or use data from a computer;
- Use computer services;
- Alter, damage, delete, or destroy any data, programs, or software;
- Disrupt computer services;
- Assist unlawful access of a computer or computer system;
- Introduce a virus; or
- Disrupt government computer services.
The unlawful use of a computer under this statute is a wobbler. This means it can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. The penalties for violating PC 502(c) as a felony include from 16 months to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. As a misdemeanor, the penalties could include up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Whether the prosecutor charges a computer crime as a misdemeanor or felony can depend on a number of factors, including the extent of the fraud or theft, defendant's criminal history, specific victims involved, and whether the defendant acted with malice or oppression.
A conviction could also include paying damages to any victims of the crime. Victims may also be able to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant for damages caused by the computer crime.
Federal Computer Crime Charges
Most computer crimes may also constitute a federal crime. Federal prosecutors may have jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses that involve the internet, even if the suspect never left the state of California. Federal law has similar laws against the unlawful use of a computer that includes activities like hacking, phishing, installing malware or viruses, online extortion, or other unlawful uses of a computer system online.
Federal charges generally involve large-scale criminal operations or extensive fraud. When facing federal criminal computer charges, the defendant may be faced with higher penalties and have to serve time in a federal penitentiary.
Defenses to Computer Crimes
One of the reasons people use computers to commit crimes is because it can be easy to act anonymously online and hide one's tracks. Most people do not take the maximum precautions to protect their home networks, online accounts, or other personal data. This means that someone else can take advantage of these and other weaknesses in the system to make it look like they are someone else.
An innocent person may have had their accounts, IP address, phones, or computers hacked and used to commit a crime. However, it is still up to the prosecutor to prove that the defendant was the one who actually committed the crime. An experienced criminal defense attorney can use forensics and computer experts to show that someone else may have committed the crime and the defendant is innocent.
Another possible defense to computer crime charges involves violations of the defendant's constitutional rights. The police and law enforcement do not always follow the rules. Officers may also be unaware of changes in the law when it comes to privacy rights. When the police violate an individual's rights against unlawful search or seizure, the defendant's lawyer can challenge the use of any illegally obtained evidence in court. Without any evidence, the prosecutor may be forced to drop the case against the defendant.
There are a number of possible legal defenses available to computer crime charges. Talk to your experienced East Bay criminal defense attorney about the best defenses available to fight against a criminal conviction in your case.
Other Crimes Committed Involving the Use of Computers in California
There are a number of different other types of unlawful computer activity in California. Most computer crimes involve fraud or theft. However, computers can also be used for unlawfully spying on someone, online harassment, prostitution, or even solicitation for murder. Computer crimes can include the following:
- Sex Crimes
- Destroying Evidence
- Online Stalking
- Criminal Threats
- Violating a Restraining Order
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney
Computer crimes involve a number of specific challenges, including making the prosecutor prove the defendant was the one who committed the crime. Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing criminal charges, including computer offenses. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success. If you or a loved one is facing computer crime charges in Alameda or Contra Costa County, contact East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney Lynn Gorelick.