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Computer Theft

In 1984, the Code of Criminal Justice was amended to encompass a wide-range of computer related theft offenses. There are five (5) primary charges that were established under NJ Law at that time. The offenses include: (1) unauthorized access of a computer; (2) altering or damaging a database of software; (3) unauthorized access to a computer, database or software to defraud or steal; (4) unauthorized copying of information from a database, computer or software; and (5) reckless damage or destruction of data from a database, computer or software. The following is a summary of some of the important aspects of each of these violations. For further assistance, call our Newark Office at 973-710-1520 to speak to one of our former prosecutors and experienced criminal attorneys.

Unauthorized Access of Computer

For a computer criminal activity crime to occur a person must either accesses any data, database, computer storage medium, computer program, computer software or computer equipment, computer, computer system or computer network. To prove an access or attempted access the state has to prove the defendant instructed, communicated with stored data in retrieved data in, made use or attempted to make use of any resources of a computer, computer system or computer network. For this offense the state must prove that the defendant acted purposely or knowingly. In addition, it must prove that the defendant acted either without authorization or in excess of authorization. This offense is a crime of the third degree.

Altering of Damaging Database of Software

The second computer criminal activity is when a defendant alters, damages or destroys any detrimental information on a computer, computer database, or computer storage medium. Such destruction includes the use of a virus to accomplish this end. The state must prove that the defendant acted purposefully or knowingly in their actions, so mere negligence or recklessness would not suffice for a conviction. This offense is a second degree crime.

Unauthorized Access to Computer, Database, or Software to Defraud or Steal

The third computer criminal activity crime is committed if a person accesses or attempts to access any data, database, computer, computer storage medium, computer program, computer system or computer network for the purpose of executing a scheme to defraud, or to obtain services, property, personal identifying information, or money, from the owner of a computer or any third party. The state must prove that the defendant actually did engage in a scheme to defraud or steal and that they did so knowingly or purposefully. This is a crime in the third degree, but becomes a crime in the second degree if the value of what is stolen exceeds $5000 in value.

Unauthorized Copying of Information from Database, Computer or Software

The fourth computer-related offense occurs if the defendant obtained, took, copied or used any data, data base, computer program, computer software, personal identifying information, or other information stored in a computer, computer network, computer system, computer equipment or computer storage medium. This offense is a crime of the third degree. It is elevated to a crime of the second degree if the data, data base, computer program, computer software or information is or contains personal identifying information, medical diagnoses, treatments or other medical information concerning an identifiable person. It would also be elevated to a crime of the second degree if what is copied is government records or something protected from disclosure by law. Lastly, it would also be a second degree offense if the value of what is copied exceeds $5000 in value.

Reckless Damage or Destruction of Data from Database, Computer or Software

The fifth computer activity offense is committed if the defendant accesses and recklessly alters, damages or destroys any data, data base, computer, computer storage medium, computer program, computer software, computer equipment, computer system or computer network. Typically this is a crime in the fourth degree if the prosecution can show that the defendant acted knowingly and or purposefully. However, it may be increased to a crime in the third degree if the value of what is altered or destroyed is over $5000.

Sentencing & Penalties For Computer Crimes

There are three circumstances when these five computer criminal activity offenses are elevated to first degree crimes. The first set of circumstances are that the offense results: in a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, gas or power, or other public service. The second set of circumstance which elevates the offense occurs when the offense results in damages or loss in excess of $250,000. The third set of circumstances which elevates the offense occurs when the offense results in significant bodily injury to any person.

In most cases, though the crime will be a third degree offense, which typically carries with it jail time of between 3 and 5 years. In the rare case that it is increased to a second degree offense, then the jail time will be between 5 and 10 years. A fourth degree crime, in the case of reckless damage to data would only be punished with up to 18 months in jail. All of these offenses are also subject to fines and a mandatory minimum amount of time between one-third and one-half of the sentenced imposed must actually be served.

These are serious offenses and if you or a loved one has been charged with any of them, you cannot afford to face them alone. Here at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, we have over 100 years of collective experience defending against criminal theft charges, including computer-related theft charges. Our attorneys have even been former Ocean County prosecutors. So please, if you or your loved one has been charged with one of these crimes, do not hesitate to call us today for a free consultation with an experienced attorney about the particulars of your case.