There are additional penalties for committing a crime with a computer. A defense attorney trained and familiar with the workings and utilization of computers is essential to the best defense to a charge of using a computer in the commission of a crime.
Using a Computer to Commit a Crime is a Felony
Before computers and the internet, criminal statutes punished acts committed in person or by way of hard-copy items. The law wishes to dissuade people from using computers for illicit purposes due to their tendency to embolden people with criminal intent because of the belief they will not get caught. The thought is that if people believe there is less of a chance of being caught, there is an increased likelihood that certain crimes will be committed.
Law Enforcement is Adept at Computer and Internet Investigations
Today’s police are not your father and mother’s police. Today, police in special units are constantly trained at seminars by top experts in computer technology and usage. Police know all the tricks for concealing identities, creating false internet personas, piercing false personas, and tracking down and snaring people they believe are using a computer to commit a crime. In fact, the police today are probably far more computer savvy than many of their targets. Therefore, anyone charged with using a computer in the commission of a crime must have a defense attorney who is intimately familiar with computer function and terminology, and have experts available to help build a defense and discredit the government’s evidence.
Examples of underlying crimes receiving extra punishment if committed using the internet or a computer system:
Michigan law states that a person shall not use the internet or a computer to communicate with any person to commit certain crimes, including but not limited to:
- Child Sexually Abusive Material or Activity involving a minor (producing, possessing, distributing, or receiving);
- Kidnapping a Minor;
- Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor;
- Unlawful Imprisonment of a Minor
- Stalking; and
- Planting Explosives on a Passenger Vehicle or Vessel Causing Death.
Penalties for Using the Internet or a Computer to Commit a Crime
To determine the possible penalty, you have to look at the maximum possible prison sentence that could be imposed for the underlying crime. For example, if a computer was used to commit a crime that is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, then the maximum penalty for using a computer to facilitate that crime is punishable by up to 10 years. The following is a list of the maximum jail and prison sentences. If the underlying crime carries a penalty of —
- less than 1 year in jail: misdemeanor, then using a computer to commit that crime caries a separate penalty of up to 1 year in jail;
- between 1 and 2 years in jail: felony, a separate penalty of up to 2 years in prison;
- between 2 and 4 years in jail: felony, a separate penalty of up to 4 years in prison;
- between 4 and 10 years in prison: felony, a separate penalty of up to 10 years in prison;
- between 10 and 15 years in prison: felony, a separate penalty of up to 15 years in prison; and
- from 15 years to life: felony, 20 a separate penalty of up to years in prison.
In addition to jail or prison, a person can be given up to 2 years of probation for a misdemeanor and up to 5 years of probation for a felony conviction.
What is especially important to know is that these additional penalties may be ordered to be served consecutively to the penalty for the underlying crime, potentially doubling the time a defendant may be incarcerated. In other words, the underlying crime’s sentence must be fully served before the second sentence begins.
Smartphones, Tablets, Smart Watches, and Similar Devices are “Computers.”
In case it is not obvious, today’s smart cell phones and other devices are simply small-sized computers, and it is not a defense that a person did not use a desktop or laptop computer in the commission of a crime.
Defenses to using a computer in the commission of a crime:
Although most defense lawyers simply assume charges of Using a Computer to Commit a Crime are not defensible, a technologically savvy lawyer can frequently build a strong defense.
The police have the wrong suspect
No matter which alleged underlying crime took place, if the computer on which the crime took place could be physically accessed by more than one person, it may be difficult to establish who actually committed the crime. Sometimes, people leave a room or building and do not log off. Anyone who had physical access to the computer could have committed the underlying crime. Anyone, especially if they are accessing child pornography, for example, would have every motive in the world to use someone else’s computer or login information. Cell phones and tablets are especially vulnerable to unauthorized use, especially if roommates or friends have access to the device.
Someone hacked into my system and committed the underlying crime
Again, anyone wanting to visit an illegal child pornography site would not want to do so on their own computer. One false click on the wrong email or pop-up can lead to someone else having access to your computer without your knowledge. Remote hacking and controlling another person’s computer could be done to frame them or simply to be able to view prohibited pictures and videos with anonymous impunity.
The accessing of child sexually abusive material was unintentional
Some nefarious child pornography websites are notorious for luring unsuspecting people into making an ill-advised click and visiting the site. Once lured in, there is a chance malware can hijack a user’s computer and not let it go, and even go so far as to force downloads on the hostage computer. An astute defense attorney savvy in computer workings would be able to put a defense computer expert on the stand and have them explain how this could have been done, and that the improper computer usage and downloading was unintentional.
An alleged “stalking” message was not intended to be threatening, frightening, harassing, or intimidating
To be charged with using a computer in the commission of a crime, the underlying crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. You cannot be convicted of using a computer in the commission of a crime if no crime was committed. An experienced criminal defense lawyer would attack the underlying charge full-tilt. If successful, both that charge and the computer crime charge would be dismissed and thrown out of court.
These are not the only potential defenses to this serious charge. Every available avenue must be used to attack this type of charge because the consequences of a conviction are so severe. It is critical to retain a highly experienced and sophisticated criminal defense attorney with not only vast experience and expertise in criminal law but also with an outstanding grasp of computers, how and they work. In these cases, it is often most effective to have a team of lawyers working together and collaborating on building a defense and mitigating any damage.
Computer Crimes Defense Firm
The attorneys on the LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. Defense Team have extensive experience defending cases involving computers. We have a network of computer experts to call upon to explain to a judge, prosecutor, or jury the technicalities of a defense to this charge in simple, clear, and understandable language any layman can understand.
The devoted and determined defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges involving computers throughout Michigan. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation. Call us today at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.