Computer Crime in California
Experienced Criminal Attorneys Explain Computer Crimes and Penal Code 502
Internet fraud, also known as cyber-crime, did not exist as a crime several decades ago. However, internet or computer crime is now a huge source of criminal and law enforcement activity in California and throughout the United States.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a project set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other organizations received over 300,000 complaints about internet fraud and other computer crime in 2010. Over ten percent (10%) of these complaints came from California. California residents reported losing over $46.3 million dollars to internet fraud in 2010.
What is a Computer Crime?
Internet crime is not a single offense. Instead, it’s a blanket term that describes several different crimes that all involve use of the internet or computers. Some of these can be prosecuted under California law in California state courts. Others are federal crimes. Some are both California and federal crimes and may be prosecuted in either California or in federal court.
While you may be familiar with “hacking” from watching your favorite television shows or reading popular crime novels, a broader variety of activities may qualify as computer crimes. California state laws include provisions intended to protect the computers, computer systems, and computer networks of individuals, businesses, and organizations across the state. California criminalizes many computer-related activities that affect the functionality, use, or confidentiality of computer data, computers, computer systems, and computer networks.
Who May Be Charged with Computer Crime?
An individual who accesses a computer, computer system, or computer network and alters, disrupts, deletes, destroys, or changes any part may be charged with a computer crime. The applicable type of internet crime depends on the defendant’s purpose for engaging in the unlawful access. For example, if you are being charged with a computer crime, a prosecutor may need to show that you wanted to execute a plan for deception, fraud, or extortion, or to take control of information, money, or property that did not belong to you.
Other types of computer crime focus on access made to introduce a computer virus or contaminant for harmful purposes. Luring a minor for and unlawful sexual encounter and child exploitation crimes (child pornography) are also crimes often involving use of a computer and/or the internet.
California Penal Code Section 502
In addition, California state laws criminalize the unauthorized taking or copying of data and information from a computer, computer system, or computer network. For example, this type of computer crime might apply to an individual who takes computerized business records from an organization or an employee who copies work product from an employer’s computer network without permission (Penal Code §502).
Prosecution of Internet and Computer Crimes
Federally charged computer crimes are prosecuted by the United States Attorney General. State computer crimes are prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office in the county where the crime was committed. In 2011, the California Attorney General created a special “eCrime Unit” to investigate and prosecute internet fraud and cyber-crime criminal cases.
Defenses to Internet and Computer Crime
If you are accused of a computer crime, the prosecutor must prove that you “knowingly” engaged in the computer-related act. If you performed the act accidentally, it may be difficult to establish the elements of the charged crime. In addition, the prosecutor must show that you acted without permission or authorization.
Sentencing and Punishment of Computer and Internet Crimes
Punishment for a conviction of a computer crime can be severe. You can be charged by the state or federal government depending on how and where you committed the alleged crime and where your victim was located. Computer crimes that can be proven to have been conducted across state lines are federal offenses.
For example, accessing a computer and obtaining information is a federal crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2) and may be punished as either a misdemeanor carrying up to a one-year prison sentence and/or fine, or as a felony carrying up to 10 years in federal prison under certain conditions.
Misdemeanor Computer Crime Conviction in California
A computer crime in California under Penal Code section 502 may be charged as a misdemeanor for the first violation if:
- It does not result in injury, and
- The value of the computer services used does not exceed $950
A misdemeanor computer crime (not involving a minor and sexual conduct) is punishable by a fine of up to $5000 and/or up to one year in county jail.
Felony Computer Crime Conviction in California
If more than $950 in value is involved, a crime of internet fraud may be charged as a felony, punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in county jail and/or by a fine of up to $10,000.
Computer and Internet Crimes Involving Sexual Conduct with Minors
Computer-related crimes involving sexual conduct with minors may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the circumstances. They are severely punishable by fines, a jail or prison sentence and a mandatory, lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender. Our attorneys will cover these offenses in greater detail in the next sections.
Contact Wallin & Klarich today if you have been charged with an Internet crime.
If you or a loved one has been accused of an Internet crime, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients against charges which would have led to state and federal “cybercrime” convictions carrying serious penalties. With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, We have been able to help our clients to successfully defend against internet fraud and other cyber-crimes. We will explore every option and carefully review all of the evidence against you to help you obtain the best possible outcome in your case.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL (877-466-5245) for a free telephone consultation.
We will get through this together.