Lawmakers in all fifty states are struggling to understand and deal with advances in technology. In many of the cases involving digital technology, computers, and the internet, criminal defense attorneys and the courts have little guidance from lawmakers and sparse help from previous court rulings.
What can happen, for example, if someone in California uses the internet to defraud, harass, or steal intellectual property from someone in Maine? This is a brief discussion of the jurisdictional issues when a computer crime involves two states, but do not expect a “one size fits all” answer.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP PRIORITY IF YOU’RE ACCUSED OF A COMPUTER CRIME?
The most important thing to remember about computer crimes is that if you are charged with any kind of computer-related crime here in southern California, you must seek a good defense lawyer’s help as quickly as possible.
An experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney will investigate the charges against you, protect your rights, and advocate aggressively for justice on your behalf.
When an online crime involves persons in two or more states, in many cases, it means that a federal law has been violated, and the charges against a suspect may be filed in the federal courts.
WHAT FEDERAL STATUTE DEALS WITH ONLINE CRIMINAL ACTIVITY?
Federal computer crimes are usually prosecuted as violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, which Congress has amended and updated a number of times.
If the charge is for child pornography, for example, the penalties will be quite harsh. A child pornography charge in any jurisdiction is almost always going to be a felony charge, and if you are convicted of a child pornography charge, you can expect to be sent to state or federal prison.
In southern California, if you are charged at the federal level for child pornography or for any type of computer crime, you must be advised and represented by a criminal defense attorney, and you will need to contact that attorney immediately.
HOW DO STATE COURTS DEAL WITH ONLINE CRIMINAL ACTIVITY?
When a computer-related crime violates the laws of two or more states – but no federal laws are violated or no federal charges are filed – in most cases, the crime may be prosecuted by either state.
A real estate fraud case is a good example. Let’s say someone in Ohio learns about a home for rent in Florida, pretends on Craigslist to own that home, and tells hopeful renters that if they send a deposit to a particular PayPal or bank account, they will be met at the home and given the keys.
The fraud is being initiated in Ohio, but the victims are suffering losses in Florida. Either state can file fraud charges and launch a criminal prosecution in such a case.
So to answer our original question, “Are charges for computer crimes limited to one state?” the answer to that question is no. But in any specific case, a great deal will depend on the nature and extent of the alleged crime, the specific laws of each state, and the discretion of the prosecutors.
HOW COULD YOU BE WRONGLY ACCUSED OF ONLINE CRIMINAL ACTIVITY?
Computer crimes are complicated, but simply being accused of a computer crime does not mean that you will be convicted. With no criminal intent, for instance, you might have accidentally visited a child pornography site simply by mistyping an address or by clicking on the wrong link.
Almost everyone could be accused of something because nearly everyone has made some kind of mistake online. And if someone else has access to your computer, you could be accused of a crime – or a mistake that looks like a crime – that person committed.
Of course, physical access to your computer is no longer your only security concern. Your computer may be tampered with from across town or from Brazil or Bangladesh.
The fact that everyone should appreciate is this: Anyone who is determined to do it can easily acquire the know-how and sabotage your computer, steal your sensitive information, or even “frame” you for a crime.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS CRIMINAL ACTIVITY ON THE INTERNET?
Child pornography is the computer crime that draws the most attention, but as you probably know, computers are utilized by embezzlers, thieves, and every kind of con artist around the world, every day. Some type of crime is always happening somewhere on the internet.
Internet vandalism, for example – the intentional attack against a website – is a growing crime. Because internet crime is often hidden and always complicated, it can be difficult for the authorities to gather evidence and file charges.
But if you are the victim of an illegal police search of your computer, a good defense attorney – in some cases – may be able to have the charges against you dismissed.
WHAT OTHER INTERNET CRIMES ARE ON THE RISE?
What other internet and computer-related crimes have been increasing in California and other states?
1. Identity theft is usually handled by the state courts and charged as fraud, but if you are convicted of identity theft by a federal court, you could serve up to fifteen years in federal prison and be fined up to $250,000.
2. Tax refund fraud involves stealing someone’s Social Security number, filing a phony tax return, and claiming a substantial refund. A conviction for tax refund fraud is punishable by up to three years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
3. The theft of intellectual property can be prosecuted as a federal crime punishable upon conviction by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
4. Electronic harassment includes cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and revenge porn. In this state, the distribution of non-consensual pornography (“revenge porn”) is a misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
CHARGED WITH AN INTERNET CRIME? WHERE CAN YOU TURN FOR HELP?
If you are accused of any computer-related crime in Orange County or elsewhere in Southern California, or if you are charged with a computer-related crime by another state or by federal authorities, do not even think about acting as your own attorney or going to court by yourself.
Even if the charge is a misdemeanor, the cybercrime laws are extremely complicated, and far too much is at stake. Instead, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight aggressively for the justice you deserve. A good attorney’s help is your right.