What it Means to be Charged with a Cyber Crime in New Jersey
September 5, 2022
Mount Holly Computer Crime Defense Attorney
Computer crime, also called cyber crime, involves committing various existing crimes like theft or child pornography trafficking, with computers. The primary aim of cybercrime is information about individuals and entities on the Internet or electronic devices. In New Jersey, it encompasses various types of theft, such as identity theft and credit card theft; several kinds of fraud like credit card fraud and bank fraud; threatening crimes like cyber harassment and cyber stalking; and sexual offenses like luring or child pornography. It also includes illegal access to computer data, storage, network or equipment to commit crime, or copying software without authorization. No matter what the specific charge is in your case, you need to urgently seek counsel from an experienced computer crime defense lawyer if you have been charged with an internet offense. You can reach out to the skilled criminal defense and cyber crime attorneys at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay by contacting our office in Evesham Township at 609-850-8284 for assistance in a free consultation.
Who Investigates Cyber Crime Cases in New Jersey?
A State Police agency called the Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU), a division of the New Jersey State Police Computer Crimes and High Technology Surveillance Bureau, investigates cybercrimes. The unit has both police and civilians that work together to investigate cyber crime and provide computer forensics to assist in cybercrime investigations of identity, corporate, and government theft and other crimes. They specialize in data theft, unlawful access, cyber stalking, account hijacking, cyber terrorism, cyber stalking and identity theft, among other crimes.
What are Common Charges for Computer Crimes in New Jersey?
Typical crimes surround theft, child pornography, stalking, harassment, and fraud. Below are some of the most common cyber offenses.
- Child pornography via computer (endangering welfare of a child) consists of sharing, accessing or possessing child pornography pictures or videos.
- Identity theft is taking someone’s information to steal their identity. For example, someone may forge another’s signature, open credit cards in another person’s name, or impersonate someone to steal from them or commit other crimes. This can involve multiple charges like forgery, credit card fraud, and theft.
- Hacking is wrongfully accessing a computer, database, software, equipment or system. This is both a state and federal crime.
- Cyberbullying and cyber harassment are serious crimes of using the Internet to bully, intimidate, ridicule or otherwise harass someone.
- Phishing is emailing or texting someone or an entity to get personal information to get them to send money or other valuable information for financial gain. After getting the information, other crimes come into play, like identity theft or theft.
- Theft is stealing money through electronic means, including anywhere money is exchanged online, whether that be online banking, PayPal, Venmo, online investing, or bitcoin, for example. Enhanced penalties and multiple crimes are likely with this crime.
Is a New Jersey Computer Crime a Felony?
New Jersey does not classify crimes into felonies and misdemeanors as other states do. The equivalent of a felony in other states is an indictable offense in the first, second, third, or fourth degree. Misdemeanors are disorderly persons offenses. Many computer crimes are indictable offenses.
What are the Different Degrees and Penalties for Internet Crimes in NJ?
Since computer crime is violating various existing laws using a computer, charges and penalties are listed in New Jersey’s statutes. Some offenses may be both state and federal crimes, which means a convicted defendant could be subject to federal laws too. The penalties vary, depending on the crime, loss, and circumstances. Below are the different degrees, with examples, and the penalties for each.
Fourth Degree – The Lowest Indictable Computer Crime
Corrupting or damaging computer data, programs, software or equipment is a fourth degree crime with penalties of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. However, the state may charge an individual with a third degree crime if the damages to the victim are over $5,000.00.
Third Degree or Second Degree for Some Cyber Crimes
Data, software, equipment, network, or program theft is a third degree crime unless the crime occurs under certain circumstances, such as theft of an individual’s private medical information and identity or private governmental records or the damages to the victim are over $5,000.00, in which case it becomes a second degree crime.
It is also a third degree crime to use a computer to defraud someone or some entity of value, whether that be personal information, services, or money. This crime also elevates to second degree cybercrime if the value of defrauded data or services exceeds $5,000.00.
A third degree crime carries a potential sentence of 3 to 5 years in prison and a $15,000.00 fine. A second degree crime with a possible 5 to 10 year prison sentence and $150,000.00 fine.
First Degree – The Most Serious Indictable Internet Offense
The state can prosecute all cybercriminal activities that cause major obstruction of public communications or services, such as utilities, as a first degree crime. The most severe penalties are reserved for crimes affecting large scale populations with global disruptions, meaning the activity affects many structures (10 or over), lasts for a minimum two hours and endangers lives or livelihoods with excessive damages (over $250,000.00). First degree cybercrime results in 10 to maximally 20 years in prison with a $200,000.00 fine.
Moreover, first degree computer crime, like all computer crime, invokes mandatory minimum sentences before a person is eligible for parole, typically, one-half to one-third of a sentence if the victim is a government agency or for a first degree computer crime conviction.
Each computer criminal conviction comes with additional fines of $500.00 to $2,000.00, which goes to a fund to prevent computer crime.
How can You be Charged with More than One Cyber Offense in the Same Case?
Computer crimes are separate offenses with individual sentences and fines for each conviction. The sentences do not merge, so an individual convicted for identity theft and illegally accessing a computer to accomplish that theft answers to two separate crimes, even though they derive from the same criminal act.
Similarly, an adult who stalks, harasses and bullies a minor on an Internet forum into sending naked photographs of the minor may be criminally liable for cyberstalking, cyber harassment, cyberbullying and child pornography.
One of the more common computer crime clusters is phishing, which involves telephoning, texting or emailing people to get them to provide personal identity; credit card, bank account or Wi-Fi access; or money. The crimes derived from phishing could include fraud, credit card fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, theft, and conspiracy to defraud, among a myriad of other crimes, depending on the method, victims, and scope of the scam.
A perpetrator targeting corporate employees by impersonating a CEO of the company may add impersonation and CEO fraud to the list. And if the perpetrator or perpetrators target senior adults, elderly law violations may also pertain.
Should I Hire a Lawyer if I was Charged with a Computer Crime in New Jersey?
Since cybercrime convictions result in costly penalties in terms of freedom and financial burdens, you stand to face decades in prison without a strong defense. Only a seasoned cyber crime defense lawyer can inform you what that defense may be in your case. Without an attorney who knows computer crime laws, how to assess the strengths and weakness of the state’s case against you, the tendencies of prosecutors and judges in your jurisdiction, and how to formulate a solid defense strategy and carry it out in court, among other skills, you may end up with maximum penalties for your internet crime charges. Rather, you may be able to obtain reduced charges, a plea deal, a court diversion like Pretrial Intervention, or even a dismissal of some or all charges with the help of a good lawyer.
If you are facing cyber crime charges in Burlington County or anywhere in southern New Jersey, contact firm partner and former NJ Deputy Attorney General, William C. Fay, IV, to consult with you regarding your case free of charge. Our respected criminal law firm defends computer crime cases for clients in Evesham, Mount Holly, Cinnaminson, Florence, Maple Shade, Burlington Township, Moorestown, Pemberton, Bordentown, Mount Laurel, Willingboro, and Medford. Call 609-850-8284 day or night to reach us right away.