Defending Federal Cybercrime Charges

The importance of working with a qualified, experienced federal court criminal defense attorney is an absolute necessity when a defendant is facing cybercrime charges in the United States District Court. 

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) of 1986 as it has been amended through the years declares a wide range of computer-related behavior to be criminal under federal law and imposes extremely severe penalties on those convicted of violating the law. Penalties for minor violations can be as low as probation and a fine. But a more substantial violation of the CFAA can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years for each count. 

Tampa’s Stechschulte Nell Criminal Defense Attorneys represent clients in and around Hillsborough County who are charged with all computer-related federal crimes. 

What Is Cybercrime? 

Cybercrime encompasses an extraordinarily diverse number of illegal activities, all of which involve some conduct involving the use of computers, cell phones, internet access, and even some computers that are not connected to the internet, as with some government computers and those used by financial institutions. 

Some examples of cybercrimes prohibited by federal criminal law include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Identity fraud = illegally obtaining or using another person’s personal identification, access code, or account information, 
  • Hacking = gaining unauthorized access to a closed computer or computer system, 
  • Phishing = fraudulently sending emails in order to gain personal information, account information, social security date, passwords, or to obtain money under false pretenses, 
  • Service theft = obtaining or using internet services without paying, 
  • Computer interference = changing, adding, or deleting data illegally 
  • Cyber-attack = obtaining control of another’s computer or system to operate, manipulate, or crash its programming, 
  • Cyberstalking = using a computer harass or stalk another person online, 
  • Child exploitation or child pornography = possessing, transmitting, or soliciting illegal child-related images or engaging in any related conduct prohibited by law. 

Strategies to Defend Federal Cybercrime Charges  

The prosecution of cybercrime in federal court demands a high degree of computer literacy by your cybercrime defense attorney. Experience in the federal courts comes hard-earned. Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, are veteran criminal defense attorneys prepared to conduct a vigorous, computer savvy, and effective defense for any client facing federal cybercrime charges. 

The appropriate defense strategy is dictated by the facts and circumstances of individual cases. Where charges involve allegations of intrusion or unauthorized access or operation of another person’s computer system, the defense tactics focus on challenging the denial of authority or obtaining evidence that the computer was not protected by law. 

Case Example: 

If an employee is issued a company computer with rights to access the data but is also instructed that the computer is for company business only, is the employee committing a crime by checking his personal email or arranging for a furniture delivery to his home? If the employee is fired (terminating his authority to access the computer) but logs in to remove personal information from the computer before turning it into the company, has he broken the law?

Federal cybercrime defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell approach every case with a granular deconstruction of the facts to analyze the significance and impact of every event. Only with this degree of detailed review can cybercrimes be effectively defended. 

Defense Tactics When Computers / Cell Phones are Seized 

If the computer allegedly used in the commission of the crime is seized by state or federal law enforcement authorities, an experienced cybercrime defense attorney will focus on protecting the contents of the digital equipment from being examined more fully than is legally permitted. 

Limiting the Scope of Seized Computer Equipment — Unlike a suitcase that might be seized in a criminal investigation, opening a computer or a cell phone involves more than simply lifting the lid and looking into a single compartment. 

Digital equipment has become remarkably compact and capable of holding immense amounts of data, much of it well beyond the authorized parameters of the search warrant.  

At Stechschulte Nell, we are committed to restricting any search of digital data only to that which is specifically described in the search warrant. 

Requesting Filtering Procedures — In any case in which Stechschulte Nell attorneys have advanced notice of a search warrant being issued for digital equipment containing mixed data (any data other than data specifically identified in the warrant), our goal is to obtain an order from the court requiring the federal authorities to include specific sorting and filtering procedures to ensure that nothing not falling within the scope of the warrant is accessed. 

This can be achieved by the use of a third-party forensic screening unit not associated with the prosecuting agency. This functionary can segregate relevant data described in the search warrant from other, nonresponsive information stored elsewhere in the computer. 

Preparing to Oppose Government Arguments for Wider Search — Efforts by defense counsel to restrict the government’s intrusion into the private digital data of the defendant will not go unopposed. Law enforcement and federal prosecutors will try to justify the legality of overly broad searches by relying on traditional exceptions to the warrant requirement, exceptions developed long before the existence of cell phones or computers. 

Opposing Traditional Search Warrant Exceptions in Cybercrime Cases — The law of search and seizure has evolved over the decades and many exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement have developed. Attempts by federal prosecutors to use any of these exceptions must be resisted by your criminal defense lawyer. 

Government lawyers may seek to use information discovered by an unlawfully expanded search of the computer at issue. Some of the grounds the government will claim as legitimizing the search are these: 

  • plainview doctrine, 
  • inevitable discovery, 
  • search incident to a lawful arrest, 
  • exigent circumstances 

Each of these are classic exceptions to the law requiring a search warrant supported by probable cause and specifically describing the place to be searched and the evidence sought. 

Charged With a Cybercrime?  

Cybercrime defense attorneys are well equipped to counter these inapplicable arguments by citing recent court decisions issued by federal courts throughout the country disallowing this unjustifiable expansion in digital forensic examinations. 

 Stechschulte Nell is Tampa’s cybercrime defense firm. Call us at 813-280-1244 for a case review today.  

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