May 24, 2010 By Wallin & Klarich

With the versatility and common usage of computers, California has enacted laws to punish crimes associated with the Internet and computers. Internet crime, or cybercrime, is very broad and can include offenses ranging from criminal threats, to child molestation, to theft or fraud. Prosecutors and investigators at both the state and federal level work in conjunction in internet crime investigations to prosecute the full gamut of computer crimes. Some common crimes include:

• Child Pornography – Any act of knowingly producing, possessing, or distributing images depicting minors under the age of 18 engaged in sexual activities is illegal in California. See California Penal Code Section 311.1.

• Crimes Against a Child – It is illegal in California for an adult to contact or attempt to contact a minor under the age of 18 on the internet for the purposes of luring them from their home without parental consent to commit lewd acts with the minor for sexual gratification.

• Identity Theft/ Cyber Fraud – Fraudulently obtaining personal information of another for illegal purposes is prosecuted in California as a theft crime. See California Penal Code Section 530.5.

1. Spoofing: This is a fraudulent activity in which websites or emails attempt to gain an illegitimate advantage by passing themselves off as coming from a legitimate company or website.
2. Phishing: This is the process of attempting to acquire personal information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card information through fraudulent, misleading methods such as spoofing.
3. Credit Card/Bank Account Fraud: This type of fraud occurs when a person uses another person’s credit card or bank account information to make unauthorized purchases online.
4. Computer Hacking: This crime occurs when a person gains access to computer programs or secured websites through unlawful tactics. See California Penal Code Section 502.

• Cyber Stalking – Stalking another person through the computer is punishable in California as stalking. See California Penal Code Section 646.9. Sending threatening, unwanted emails to the victim to the point where they begin to fear for their safety will qualify as cyber stalking. This crime also applies to posts or messages on social website profiles like Facebook or Twitter.

• Illegal Downloading – This crime occurs in situations where copyrighted materials (e.g., movies, music, etc.) are shared or illegally downloaded through file-sharing software without authorization.

Child Pornography
Under California Penal Code Section 311.1, it is a crime in California to produce, distribute, or even possess materials depicting minors engaged in sexual activity.

To be convicted under this statute, the prosecution must show that the defendant produced, possessed, or distributed pornographic materials and that the defendant knew or should have known that the persons depicted were minors under the age of 18.

Although typically charged as a felony, child pornography can also be charged as a misdemeanor offense. Punishment can range from up to 1 year in county jail, to a 3 year sentence in state prison.

Crimes Against a Child
Under California Penal Code Section 288 a crime is committed when an adult touches the body of a child for sexual gratification. The nature of the touching often involves inappropriate touching or fondling of the child’s sexual organs, or other acts of molestation. This crime is often referred to as “lewd acts on a minor under 14” or “acts of lewd or lascivious conduct.”

To convict a defendant of this crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant willfully touched the body of a child (even if it is over their clothes) with the intent of arousing or gratifying their lust, passion, or sexual desires.

This crime is punishable as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction may bring with it a sentence of up to 1 year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000. A felony conviction, however, may subject you to 8 years in state prison and/or a fine of $10,000.

Identity Theft/Fraud
Under California Penal Code Section 530.5, it is a punishable crime to use other people’s personal information for unlawful purposes.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant willfully obtained someone else’s personal identifying information; that the defendant willfully used that information for an unlawful purpose; and that the defendant used that information without consent. An unlawful purpose includes attempts to obtain credit, goods, or services while using the identity of another.

If charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction may bring with it a jail sentence of up to 1 year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000. A felony conviction may bring with it a sentence of up to 3 years in state prison and/or a fine of $10,000. In addition to criminal penalties, you may also be subject to civil liabilities; the California legislature recently passed phishing crime law that allows victims to recover $5,000 to $500,000 for each violation.

Cyber Stalking
Under California Penal Code section 616.9, any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety is guilty of the crime of stalking – even if it was committed solely with the use of a computer.

To be convicted the prosecution must prove that the defendant committed any of the above-mentioned acts with the intent to cause the victim to fear for his/her own safety. Harassment is defined as an intentional course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously annoys, alarms, torments, or terrorizes without any legitimate purpose to justify it.

Illegal Downloading
It is a federal crime, rather than a state crime, for any person to willfully violate a copyright. The penalties include a prison sentence that can range from 5 to 10 years as well as heavy fines, depending on the retail value of the copyrighted works (18 U.S.C.S. §2319).

For more information, go to and read our Internet Crimes section. You will find invaluable information on the charges that you or a loved one may be facing, as well as the possible defenses.

The consequences of being convicted of an internet crime involves lengthy jail sentence. With so much at stake it is essential that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney before taking any action on your case. Wallin & Klarich has over 30 years of experience defending the rights of our clients. Call us at (888) 749-0034 to learn more about your legal rights. We will be there when you call.

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