California is the primary center of technology in the United States, owing to its major tech companies like Silicon Valley. For this reason, the state is a hotspot for all types of cybercrimes. Most cyber crimes result in financial losses and emotional distress and suffering for the victims. In response, prosecutors are more aggressive when dealing with individuals facing charges for these offenses. Cybercrime represents many crimes, including stalking, hacking, fraud, and even child pornography.

A conviction for one of the cybercrimes attracts severe legal consequences, and you may find yourself behind bars for a long time. Additionally, having a conviction for such an offense on your record could ruin your personal and professional relationships. Given the complexity and seriousness of a cybercrime charge, it would be wise to hire and retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Fraud

California law defines fraud as deceiving another person with an intent to make them give up something of value. Since most people use the internet to communicate, it is common for the crime of fraud to be committed through the internet. Internet fraud could occur in the following ways:

  • Non-delivery merchandise fraud. This occurs when internet sellers ask for money from the buy and fail to deliver the goods.
  • Work at house scams. This is where a fake company offers attractive job offers and asks for a registration fee.
  • Advance fee fraud. Posting internet classified ads offering great deals on expensive items, the seller then asks for a shipment fee for never delivered products.

Defamation

Under California law, defamation is an invasion of the interest in another person’s reputation. This involves making false statements aimed at attacking the victim’s reputation. When you sue someone for slander, you must prove the following elements:

  • Intentional publication of a statement of fact. Defamation is treated as an intentional tort under California law. Therefore, it must be clear that the defendant intended to act in the manner they did. The public, in this case, refers to communication to a third party who understands the message and could apply it to the victim. An intention publication does not need to be made to a large group of people. Passing information to one person could be considered defamation.
  • False publications. In a defamation lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that the statement made by the defendant is false.
  • Unprivileged publications. A statement is considered defamation if it is unprivileged. Some privileged publications include publications made in the proper discharge of official duty and a judicial proceeding.
  • The publication causes damage. A publication fits the definition of defamation if it causes an injury or special damages.

Bullying

Bullying has always been a common vice among your people. While cyberbullying is not addressed individually, bullying which occurs in the electronic format has become prevalent. Due to the universal use of social media interaction, many people fail to realize that bullying is a criminal act. 

As a cybercrime, bullying occurs when you use an electronic device or communication to intimidate or annoy another person. In this case, electronic communication may include cell phones, telephones, and internet web pages. If you use any of the above electronic devices to distribute personal information or harass messages about another person, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. A conviction for cyberbullying attracts a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.

Stalking

Under California PC 646.9, stalking is a crime that involves harassing or threatening another person to a point where they fear for their safety. With the increased use of technology, many criminals use the internet to stalk their victims. Cyberstalking involves the use of an electronic device to harass another person. Because the internet is challenging to legislate, you can be charged with cyberstalking for various reasons.

Each person operating online in the United States is entitled to protection. Before you are convicted under PC 646.9, the prosecution must prove that:

  • You willfully and maliciously harassed the alleged victim
  • You made a credible threat that caused reasonable fear to the victim or their family
  • You made the threats using the internet or another electronic device

Since cyberstalking is a subset of stalking, you could face charges for a misdemeanor or a felony. When determining the nature of your charges under this statute, the prosecution considers:

  • Your criminal history
  • Whether or not your criminal conduct is related to domestic violence
  • Whether or not the alleged victim has a restraining order against you

As a misdemeanor, stalking attracts a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000. On the other hand, a felony conviction is punishable by a five-year prison sentence, fines, and formal probation.

Hacking

Hacking is knowingly accessing a computer, network, or computer system without the owner’s consent. Under California Penal Code 502(c), the prosecutor must prove these two elements to prove your guilt:

  • You knowingly accessed a computer system or network. Conduct that is considered hacking could range from a simple act like a person breaking into their partner’s phone to an employee accessing a restricted server at the workplace.
  • You acted without the owner’s consent. Access to a computer or a network becomes a crime when you act without consent. 

The penalties you face after a conviction for hacking will depend on the level of damage done after the unauthorized access. If there were no injury or damage, your acts would be treated as a simple infraction punishable by a $1,000 fine.

If you are a repeat offender, a second offense under PC 502(c), the prosecution could seek a one-year jail sentence, $5,000 in fines, and summary probation.

Phishing

Phishing, commonly known as identity theft, is a crime that occurs when you unlawfully obtain or use another person’s identification information without their consent. Under California Penal Code 530.5, the prosecution must establish the following elements to prove your guilt for identity theft:

  • You willfully obtained another person’s identification information and used the data unlawfully. Under this statute, the personal identification information includes the victim’s name and driver’s license number: employee ID, social security number, and bank account information.
  • You took or detained the information for any unlawful purpose. You commit a willful act when your acts are intentional. An illegal purpose, in this case, may include an attempt to obtain goods, services, credit, or property.
  • You sold or transferred another person’s identification information with fraudulent intent. Under this statute, fraud is an intentional act aimed at securing unlawful gain, and it causes another person to suffer loss. It is essential to understand that the victim does not need to suffer an actual loss for you to be charged under this statute.
  • You knew that the information you obtained and transferred was meant to be used to commit fraud. You cannot be convicted under PC 530.5 unless the prosecutor proves your knowledge of the purpose of the information.

The crime of phishing is a wobbler. You could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony at the court’s discretion. As a felony, the crime attracts a three years prison sentence, $10,000 in fines, and felony probation. If you face misdemeanor charges, a conviction will result in a one-year jail sentence and a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Child Porn

Under California PC 311, child pornography is illegal. This crime involves making, sending, transporting, or possessing child pornography. Additionally, you could be charged under this statute if you attempt to persuade a minor to participate in making child pornography. Some of the common types of child pornography crimes with which you could be charged include:

  • Possession of child pornography
  • The commercial distribution of child pornography
  • Soliciting minors to participate in child pornography
  • Advertising child pornography

Child pornography under this statute is any content that depicts individuals under eighteen years engaging in sexual activity. To secure a conviction for child pornography, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You knowingly engaged in the act. This includes making, distributing, possessing, or selling pornographic materials depicting minors.
  • When you committed the act, you knew that the material depicted minors. You are guilty of child pornography if you were aware that the individuals engaging in the sexual acts were under eighteen years.

Most crimes under PC 311 are charged as felonies. The specific penalties you face will depend on your charged offense. Additionally, your criminal history could play a significant role in the sentencing.

A conviction for possession of child pornography is a felony that attracts a one-year prison sentence and a $2,500 fine for a first conviction. A second and subsequent conviction under PC 311.11 would cause you to spend six years in prison.

The distribution of child pornography is a wobbler. The offense attracts a minimum jail sentence of one year as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, a felony conviction for the offense will result in a three-year sentence in state prison. If you are found guilty of soliciting a minor to engage in child pornography, you risk facing a minimum prison sentence of up to three years. If you face charges for child pornography in California, it is crucial to seek legal representation.

Fighting Cybercrime Charges in California

Facing criminal charges for an internet crime can be a worrying experience. The consequences of a conviction for these offenses are likely to have a long-lasting effect on your life. Fortunately, these charges are beatable. With the guidance of a skilled defense lawyer, you can build a strong defense around the following arguments:

Lack of Intent to Commit the Crime

Most internet crimes require the prosecutor to establish the main elements before securing a conviction. The first element is your willfulness to engage in the illegal activity, while the other one is an intent to commit the crime. In crimes such as child pornography, your intent to create or distribute the material must be clear. Criminal intent is a mental attitude with which a person acts. If your intent to commit the crime is not clear, you cannot be convicted for such a crime.

You Acted within the Scope of your Employment

The likelihood of facing charges for an internet-related crime is not uncommon for individuals who hold office jobs. When an internet crime is based on accessing another person’s information, you can argue that you acted within your scope of employment.

Mistaken Identity

Most cyber crimes are prosecuted based on evidence found on your computer. However, law enforcement can trace the crime back to the wrong device. In this case, you can argue that even though the IP address or location is correct, there is no evidence that your computer was used to commission the crime.

False Allegations

With the increased effort to prosecute cybercrimes, charges against innocent people have increased. Due to their increased access to security codes, IT specialists risk being falsely accused of computer crimes. Any internet user could stumble into one of law enforcement officers’ sites to attract cybercriminals. If the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you engaged in the alleged cybercrime, you can avoid conviction.

Possession or Control

You are only guilty of a crime such as child porn if the prosecution proves your ultimate control over the harmful material. If the material was on your computer, but you did not have access to it or did not know that the individuals depicted in the content were minors, you may be spared a conviction.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

As many people depend on the internet for their daily activities, connect with other people, and manage their finances, cybercrime has increased tremendously. Most cyber crimes involve unauthorized access to another person’s computer, software, or data and using it for financial gain or to harass others. In California, prosecutors often take a harsh stance against defendants of cybercrimes.

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges for an internet crime, you risk facing severe penalties and consequences after a conviction. Therefore, hiring a lawyer who has a thorough knowledge of computer technology and understands the various computer crime laws. At The Law Offices of Sara L. Caplan, we use our extensive experience in defending cybercrime charges to build a strong defense and ensure the best possible outcome in your case. We serve clients requiring legal guidance and representation to battle criminal charges in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us today at 310-550-5877.