Cyber Crimes

In California, computer crimes can be prosecuted in state or federal court. Examples of the most commonly prosecuted computer crimes include:

  • Hacking
  • Phishing
  • Wiretapping
  • DMCA Issues
  • Unlawful Use of a Computer
  • Unauthorized Computer Access
  • Identity Theft
  • Credit Card Fraud
  • Insurance Fraud
  • Stealing financial data
  • Denial of Service (DOS or DDoS) attacks
  • Using Malware
  • Cyberstalking
  • Revenge Pornography / Sextortion
  • Violating website and software terms of service

California Penal Code Section 502 is a multifarious statute that creates criminal and civil liability for a variety of computer crimes. As part of the Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, the penalties for computer crimes listed in Section 502 come with harsh penalties.

Not all computer crimes are listed in Section 502. In fact, many different types of crimes can be committed by using a computer including making threats, extortion, violating a restraining order, bribery, drug trafficking, or even sexually-motivated crimes for internet child pornography or lewd exhibition.

In California, the District Attorney’s Office enjoys state and local funding to operate a high-tech task force with specially-trained district attorney investigators, and police detectives use cutting-edge technology to investigate computer crimes.

You also need an attorney focused on computer crimes with the training and experience necessary to protect you from criminal prosecution.

To defend a person charged with a computer crime, the criminal defense attorney must understand the dramatic changes in technology that affect both the nature of the crime and the prosecutor’s approach to prosecuting the case.


Attorney for Computer Crimes in Ventura, CA

At Jay Leiderman Law, we know how to address the ever-changing nature of accusations involving computer crimes and hacking, especially those crimes involving technology and identity theft.

Jay Leiderman is familiar with California’s Penal Code Section 502(c) that prohibits knowingly using a computer or computer system to commit a crime.

In addition to Section 502(c) computer crimes prosecuted in state court, Jay Leiderman is also experienced with federal computer crimes including:

  • hacking under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030
  • phishing under 18 U.S.C. Section 1028
  • tax refund fraud under 26 U.S.C. Section 7206
  • theft of sensitive data under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030
  • theft of intellectual property under 18 U.S.C. Section 2319

After an accusation for committing a crime using a computer or the internet, you should seek out the services of a top cybercrime defense attorney in Ventura, CA.

In California, cybercrimes are usually prosecuted as a felony offense that comes with harsh penalties in either state and federal court.


Overview of Computer Law in California


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California’s Section 502 Computer Crimes

In Mendez v. Piper, H041122, 2017 WL 1350770, at *7 (Cal. Ct. App. Apr. 12, 2017), when describing Section 502, the court noted:

Section 502 is a multifarious statute, creating both criminal and civil liability. This court has explained that “the statute describes a number of computer crimes in somewhat overlapping language and also creates several exemptions from prosecution.” (People v. Hawkins (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1428, 1440 (Hawkins ).)

In 2010, when Mendez was terminated, nine subsections of section 502, subdivision (c) prohibited different kinds of conduct as public offenses, some offenses amounting to felonies, others wobblers, others misdemeanors, and yet others infractions as specified in subdivision (d).16 (Stats. 2010, 3rd Ex. Sess. 2009–2010, ch. 28, § 26, 3 West’s 2009 Session Laws, pp. 4403–4407.)….

Section 502 also establishes that the prohibited conduct can be the basis for a civil cause of action…. In any action brought pursuant to this subdivision the court may award reasonable attorney’s fees.”

California’s Penal Code Section 502(c) prohibits knowingly using a computer or computer system to commit a crime. The statute prohibits using a computer without permission to:

  • Defraud, deceive, extort, or wrongfully obtain money, property, or data;
  • Copy, take, or use data from a computer;
  • Use computer services;
  • Alter, damage, delete, or destroy any data, programs, or software;
  • Disrupt computer services;
  • Assist unlawful access of a computer or computer system;
  • Introduce a computer virus; or
  • Disrupt government computer services.

Crimes for the unlawful use of a computer are classified as “wobblers” that might be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Whether the computer crime is prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor depends on numerous factors including:

  • whether the defendant acted with malice or oppression;
  • the specific victims involved;
  • the defendant’s criminal history and prior record; and
  • the extent of the theft or fraud.

The punishment for violating Section 502(c) when the crime is charged as a felony include sixteen (16) months to three (3) years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

When the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties can include up to twelve (12) months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

In addition to seeking restitution on top of the criminal penalties, the alleged victim might also seek money damages in civil court.


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Other Types of Cybercrimes Prosecuted in California

Other commonly-prosecuted crimes under California law include:

  • Stealing Computer Data under California Penal Code 502
    • Under the California Penal Code, a crime can be charged for taking or copying data and other information from a computer, computer system, or computer network without authorization.
    • The crime can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the way the crime was committed, the damages that occurred because of the crime, and the prior criminal history of the defendant.
    • A felony conviction for stealing computer data could result in up to three (3) years in prison.
    • A misdemeanor conviction for crimes of stealing computer data are punishable by up to twelve (12) months in jail.
  • Electronic Harassment under California Penal Code 646.9
    • The crime of “electronic harassment” or cyberstalking involves the use of a computer, other electronic devices, or the internet to harass, threaten, annoy, or abuse another person through social media platforms or email.
    • California Penal Code Section 646.9 establishes that electronic harassment crimes can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the way the crime was committed and the damages incurred.
    • Felony charges for cyberstalking are punishable by up to five (5) years in prison.
    • Misdemeanor charges for electronic harassment are punishable by up to twelve (12) months in jail.
  • Identity Theft under 18 U.S.C Section 1028, California Penal Code 530.5
    • Under California law, the crime of identity theft is charged as fraud under California’s Penal Code 530.5.
    • The defendant can be charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C Section 1028, but only if the theft of the other person’s identity is committed by using a computer.
    • The penalties for identity theft crimes prosecuted under federal law are similar to the penalties imposed for crimes of phishing.
  • Internet Child Pornography under California Penal Code Section 311
    • The crime of child pornography using the internet involves developing, publishing, distributing, or producing images of minors children under the age of 18 while engaged in sexual activity or suggestive poses.
  • Cyber Impersonation under California Penal Code 528.5
    • The crime of cyber impersonation involves impersonating or attempting to impersonate another person on the internet for purposes of intimidating, harming or defrauding another without their permission.

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Computer Crimes under Federal Law

When law enforcement officers investigate compute crimes, the offense often constitutes a violation of federal law in addition to a violation of state law.

Prosecutors at the United States Attorney’s Office have jurisdiction over crimes impacting interstate commerce. Because of the nature of computer crimes and the internet, an interstate commerce component is almost always present. When federal prosecutors file charges, the crimes often involve a greater loss or larger criminal operations.

The most common computer crimes prosecuted in federal court include:

  • Hacking under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030
    • The crime of hacking involves unlawfully accessing a computer or personal data on a computer without the owner’s permission.
    • Convictions for hacking crimes prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030 come with a possible sentence of ten (10) years in federal prison.
  • Phishing under 18 U.S.C. Section 1028
    • The crime of phishing involves fraudulently obtaining personal information by pretending to be or posing as a legitimate entity or agency.
    • The personal information might include credit card information, passwords, or login information. The information is obtained by using a malware link or a virus by email for the purpose of obtaining access to another person’s computer data.
    • The statutory penalties for phishing crimes range from three (3) to fifteen (15) years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and forfeiture of any property used to commit the crime.
  • Tax Refund Fraud under 26 U.S.C. Section 7206
    • The crime of tax refund fraud often involves obtaining a Social Security number from a deceased person or someone who is not filing a tax return.
    • The information is obtained through phishing or purchasing the data on the black market.
    • If you are charged with tax refund fraud under 26 U.S.C. Section 7206 then you can be sentenced to up to three (3) years in prison and ordered to pay up to $250,000 in fines.
  •  Theft of Sensitive Data under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030
    • Under the theft statute, if the data includes customer information, employee information, trade secrets, credit card details or source codes, then the crime occurs when a person copies information onto a flash drive and sells it to competitors or uses confidential information to compete with the entity’s business.
    • The theft of sensitive data falls under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. Section 1028).
  •  Theft of Intellectual Property under 18 U.S.C. Section 2319
    • The term “intellectual property” includes copyrighted materials such as music, movies, books, and product blueprints.
    • Under 18 U.S.C. Section 2319, the penalties for this crime could include up to ten (10) years in prison and fines of up to $2,500 depending on how the crime is charged.

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