10 Ways the Internet Can Land You in Federal Prison
Over the last 20 years, no technological advancement has changed our lives more than the internet. However, while having the internet has made most of our lives easier, it has also led to some serious legal nightmares for others. Here are some ways that using the internet can lead to violations of federal law.
Phishing/Identity Theft (18 U.S.C. 1343)
If you have been on the internet for any length of time, you have undoubtedly received “spam” messages that you did not want. Sometimes, these messages come to you as if they were sent by one of your friends, and usually with the intent of getting you to click on a link or provide access to your personal information, such as your birthdate or Social Security number
If you send these emails (known as “phishing”), you could be charged with a crime. These acts can be punished through federal wire fraud laws.1 It is a federal crime to unlawfully use means of communication that cross state lines for the purpose of obtaining money or property through fraudulent representations.
Copyright Infringement (18 U.S.C. 2319)
In the late 1990s, many people began illegally downloading music through services like Napster. As bandwidth became cheaper and connection speeds became faster, the downloading of pirated movies, television shows, and video games became more common.
If you illegally download movies or music, you could be charged with criminal copyright infringement. This crime carries a maximum of five years in federal prison.
Child Pornography (18 U.S.C. 2252)
Perhaps no crime is more associated with the internet than child pornography. The ease of sharing videos and photographs over the internet has made it a prime source of illegal material.
It is both a state and federal crime to knowingly distribute or receive any visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. This crime is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.2
Solicitation of a Minor (18 U.S.C. 2422)
Similarly, the internet has made it easier to commit another sex crime involving minors. Under federal law, you can be prosecuted for the use of a “means of interstate commerce” (such as the internet) to knowingly persuade, entice, coerce, or induce any minor to engage in unlawful sexual activity. This includes arranging to meet with a person you know or believe to be under the age of 18 for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with him or her.
This crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, and can result in between 10 years and life in federal prison.
Non-Delivery of Merchandise (18 U.S.C. 1343)
This crime is also prosecuted under federal wire fraud law. If you offer an item for sale and accept payment but never deliver the item, you could be convicted of non-delivery of merchandise.
The penalties for this crime include up to 20 years in prison. You could face up to 40 years in federal prison if the fraud is connected to a government declared disaster, or if the fraud affects a financial institution.
Hacking (18 U.S.C. 1030)
Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it is a crime to hack into someone’s email or computer system:
- For gain
- For the purpose of malicious destruction, or
- In order to further any crime3
Recently, Chris Correa, the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for his unauthorized use of a password to access information stored in a database belonging to the Houston Astros.
Drug Trafficking (18 U.S.C. 841)
In many drug trafficking cases, the accused traffickers use websites, social media, or email to set up sales and deliveries of drugs.
In 2013, the FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht, known on the internet as “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Ulbricht was the proprietor of a website known as the “Silk Road.” The site allowed drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and prescription pills to be bought and sold using Bitcoin currency to avoid leaving a trail of credit card transactions. Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison.
Murder for Hire (18 U.S.C. 1958)
Every state in the country makes it a crime to offer someone anything of value in exchange for the murder of another human being. If a person uses a telephone or the internet to make such a request, he or she could face federal prosecution.4
Under 18 U.S.C. Section 1958, the crime is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. These penalties increase if any person is injured, and can include a death sentence if someone dies as a result of the solicitation.
Blackmail (18 U.S.C. 873)
Blackmail is defined under federal law as a threating to inform authorities that another person committed a crime unless payment in some form is received from that person. It is also considered blackmail if you took payment for staying quiet about a violation of law.
Often, these demands are communicated through the use of email or websites. Under 18 U.S.C. Section 873, blackmail is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year.
Criminal Threats (18 U.S.C. 875(c).)
Federal law prohibits the use of any means of interstate commerce (mail, telephone, or internet) to make a threat to kidnap or injure any person.5 In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that you can only be convicted of making a threat online if the prosecution proves you intended the communication to be a threat, not simply whether any person would regard the communication as a threat.6
If you are convicted of making a threat via the internet, you could be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.
Contact the Federal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you are being accused of a federal crime, your first step should be to contact an attorney who is experienced with federal criminal defense. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending clients against federal charges for over 40 years. Let us help you now.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina, and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich federal attorney near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
1.18 U.S.C. § 1343. href=”#ref1″>↩
2.18 U.S.C. § 2252. href=”#ref2″>↩
3.18 U.S. Code § 1030. href=”#ref3″>↩
4.See, United States v. Perrin, 580 F.2d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 1978), aff’d, 444 U.S. 37 (1979); href=”#ref4″>↩
5.18 U.S.C. § 875(c). href=”#ref5″>↩
6.Elonis v. United States, 575 US _ (2015). href=”#ref6″>↩