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May 3, 2017

New York Penal Law 156.10: Computer trespass

Given New York’s position as one of the world’s great financial centers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the State of New York also has some of the most severe laws “on the books” making most forms of unauthorized use of a computer a criminal offense.

As defined within New York’s Penal Law, a defendant is guilty of computer trespass if he or she gains unauthorized access to a computer, a workstation, a computer network, or a computer service and there was a malicious intent or purpose as the motivation behind that unauthorized access, such as:

  • To alter the contents of a file or a database for personal gain, or
  • With the intent to commit, an attempt to commit, or in support of any crime that is itself a felony, or
  • To deliberately gain access to electronic data that you have no valid, legal, reason to access or to view.

Given the definition of computer trespass, it should be obvious that there are very few computer crimes that could not give rise to an additional charge of computer trespass. Computer crimes that, by their definition, could be used in support of a charge of computer trespass include:

  • Industrial espionage
  • Copyright infringement
  • Software piracy
  • Cyber-terrorism

You should also be aware of the fact that even if you are acquitted on a more serious computer crime charge, the State of New York could file a computer trespass charge against you, even though the basis for both charges is essentially the same.
Computer trespass is a felony in the State of New York!

The penalties that can be imposed if you are convicted on a charge of computer trespass are those of a Class E felony:

  • Up to 4 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of up to $5,000 or double the amount gained during the act of computer trespass.

If you are convicted of computer trespass as well as another computer crime that is also a felony, the judge that hands down your sentence can order that all prison terms are to be served consecutively (one after another) rather than concurrently (at the same time). Such a decision could easily add several years of additional prison time to an already harsh sentence.

Defenses against a charge of computer trespass

Since proving a charge of computer trespass demands that the prosecution demonstrate both unauthorized access to a computer or a network and a malicious motivation on the part of the accused, a successful defense against such charges usually involves at least one of the following issues:

  • The prosecution cannot prove malicious intent.
  • A defendant had no reason to suspect that he or she was using a computer or a network without the owner’s consent.
  • Someone was using a defendant’s username and password to hide their own identity.
  • The defendant had a legitimate reason to access the computer and/or network in question, such as security testing or program debugging.

Computer and computer-assisted crime are relatively new branches of criminal law. As with any defense on a criminal charge, the first step toward a successful defense of a computer crime charge is to obtain the services of a NYC criminal defense lawyer who understands the laws relative to computer crime at both the federal and state levels. Only a lawyer who understands both computer science and criminal law will be in a position to provide an effective defense to someone charged with computer trespass or any other computer crime charge.

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Queens

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Phone

888-977-6335

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Brooklyn, NY 11201

Phone

888-977-6335

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