Hacking into certain computers is a federal crime in Nevada. Depending on the case, penalties may carry several years in prison and huge fines.
This article summarizes the various "cyber crimes" that are prosecutable under federal law. Scroll down to learn about what constitutes computer fraud, how our Nevada criminal defense attorneys defend against allegations, and what punishments courts may impose.
Congress first passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986. It was meant to deter and punish various forms of computer hacking in the following situations:
- cases where a compelling federal interest exists,
- cases involving computers used by the federal government or certain financial institutions,
- cases where the computer offenses are interstate in nature, or
- cases where the computers are utilized in interstate or foreign commerce.
Note that not all computers are "protected" under 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Michael Becker explains how some hacking is not illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act:
Example: Sam in Henderson, NV, hacks into his roommate's computer to read his email. Although Sam may be booked at the Henderson Detention Center for an identity theft crime, he probably would not be liable under 18 U.S.C. § 1030. This is because the roommate's computer was not used by the U.S. Government or a bank, and Sam's actions did not affect interstate or foreign commerce.
Also note that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibits not just committing computer fraud but also attempting or conspiring to commit computer fraud. Therefore it is possible to be found liable under this law even if the defendant was ultimately unsuccessful in perpetrating the fraud.
There are many forms of computer fraud that are illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 1030. The following are some of the more common cyber crimes:
- Intentionally accessing a government computer without prior authorization and changing how the government operates the computer
- Knowingly accessing a "protected" computer with the intention to commit fraud and procuring something of value
- Knowingly accessing a computer with no prior authorization for the purpose of procuring national security data, financial records of a financial institution, or information about a U.S. department or agency
- Knowingly damaging a computer that causes a public health or safety threat, physical injury, damage to a government computer system, or at least $5,000 in losses to one or more people within a one-year period.
In short, stealing information from a "protected" computer or damaging a "protected computer" such as with a worm or virus can be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The primary defense in all fraud cases including computer fraud is that the defendant did not have an "intent to defraud." Federal fraud charges should not stand unless the defendant acted knowingly and intentionally. Mesquite criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse gives an example:
Example: Sandy works at Citibank in Reno and checks her email on her work computer. She sees a message she mistakenly believes is from a colleague and opens the attachment, which contains a virus which infects all of Citibank's computers. The U.S. Marshals Service then books her at the Washoe County Detention Center for unleashing the virus on a bank computer. But Sandy should not be convicted because she had no idea that the attachment contained a virus.
Another defense to federal charges of computer fraud is that the U.S. Attorney's Office lacks sufficient evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As long as the defense attorney can show the court that the government's evidence is not adequate to sustain a conviction, the charges should be dropped.
It is also possible to get a federal computer fraud case thrown out if the court rules that the police acted illegally when investigating the charges. First the defense attorney would file a "Nevada motion to suppress evidence" asking the judge to disregard any evidence unearthed from police misconduct. If the judge agrees the cops behaved unlawfully and grants the motion, the prosecution may then drop the case for lack of evidence.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, penalties for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act typically range from one to twenty years in Federal Prison and/or a fine. But the judge may order up to a life sentence if the defendant knowingly or recklessly caused (or attempted to cause) another's death.
Arrested? Call an attorney . . .
If you are facing federal charges of "computer fraud" in Nevada, contact our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) to speak for free. It may be possible to get the allegations lessened to minor charges or dismissed. And if necessary we are ready to take the matter all the way to trial and fight for a "not guilty" verdict.