Defending Colorado Computer Crime Cases

Computer crime, or cybercrime, refers to any crime that involves a computer and a network, where the computers may or may not have played an instrumental part in the commission of a crime.

You may have to defend against charges of a cyber crime if you are accused of a less technical crime but may have used a computer in the process.

Computer crime encompasses a broad range of potentially illegal activities. Generally, however, it may be divided into one of two types of categories:

  1. crimes that target computer networks or devices directly;
  2. crimes facilitated by computer networks or devices, the primary target of which is independent of the computer network or device.

Examples of crimes that primarily target computer networks or devices would include:

  • Computer viruses
  • Denial-of-service attacks
  • Malware (malicious code)

Examples of crimes that merely use computer networks or devices would include:

  • Cyber stalking
  • Fraud and identity theft
  • Information warfare
  • Phishing scams

A computer can be a source of evidence. Even though the computer is not directly used for criminal purposes, it is an excellent device for record keeping, particularly given the power to encrypt the data. If this evidence can be obtained and decrypted, it can be of great value to criminal investigators.

The Definition of Computer Crime in Colorado: CRS 18-5.5-102
  1. A person commits computer crime if the person knowingly:
    1. Accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof without authorization; exceeds authorized access to a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof; or uses a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof without authorization or in excess of authorized access;
    2. Accesses any computer, computer network, or computer system, or any part thereof for the purpose of devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud; or
    3. Accesses any computer, computer network, or computer system, or any part thereof to obtain, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, money; property; services; passwords or similar information through which a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof may be accessed; or other thing of value; or
    4. Accesses any computer, computer network, or computer system, or any part thereof to commit theft; or
    5. Without authorization or in excess of authorized access alters, damages, interrupts, or causes the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of, or causes any damage to, any computer, computer network, computer system, computer software, program, application, documentation, or data contained in such computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof; or
    6. Causes the transmission of a computer program, software, information, code, data, or command by means of a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof with the intent to cause damage to or to cause the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of or that actually causes damage to or the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of any computer, computer network, computer system, or part thereof; or
    7. Uses or causes to be used a software application that runs automated tasks over the internet to access a computer, computer network, or computer system, or any part thereof, that circumvents or disables any electronic queues, waiting periods, or other technological measure intended by the seller to limit the number of event tickets that may be purchased by any single person in an on-line event ticket sale as defined in section 6-1-720, C.R.S.
    1. Except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this subsection (3), if the loss, damage, value of services, or thing of value taken, or cost of restoration or repair caused by a violation of this section is less than five hundred dollars, computer crime is a class 2 misdemeanor; if five hundred dollars or more but less than one thousand dollars, computer crime is a class 1 misdemeanor; if one thousand dollars or more but less than twenty thousand dollars, computer crime is a class 4 felony; if twenty thousand dollars or more, computer crime is a class 3 felony.
    2. Computer crime committed in violation of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section is a class 2 misdemeanor; except that, if the person has previously been convicted under this section, a previous version of this section, or a statute of another state of similar content and purport, computer crime committed in violation of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section is a class 6 felony.
      1. Computer crime committed in violation of paragraph (g) of subsection (1) of this section is a class 1 misdemeanor.
Some Important Legal Definitions of Terms Used in the Colorado Computer Crimes Law 18-5.5-101. Definitions
  1. “Authorization” means the express consent of a person which may include an employee’s job description to use said person’s computer, computer network, computer program, computer software, computer system, property, or services as those terms are defined in this section.
  2. “Computer” means an electronic, magnetic, optical, electromagnetic, or other data processing device which performs logical, arithmetic, memory, or storage functions by the manipulations of electronic, magnetic, radio wave, or light wave impulses, and includes all input, output, processing, storage, software, or communication facilities which are connected or related to or operating in conjunction with such a device.
  3. “Computer network” means the interconnection of communication lines (including microwave or other means of electronic communication) with a computer through remote terminals, or a complex consisting of two or more interconnected computers. “Computer program” means a series of instructions or statements, in a form acceptable to a computer, which permits the functioning of a computer system in a manner designed to provide appropriate products from such computer system.“Computer software” means computer programs, procedures, and associated documentation concerned with the operation of a computer system.“Computer system” means a set of related, connected or unconnected, computer equipment, devices, and software.(6.3) “Damage” includes, but is not limited to, any impairment to the integrity of availability of information, data, computer program, computer software, or services on or via a computer, computer network, or computer system or part thereof. (6.7) “Exceed authorized access” means to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information, data, computer program, or computer software that the person is not entitled to so obtain or alter. “Financial instrument” means any check, draft, money order, certificate of deposit, letter of credit, bill of exchange, credit card, debit card, or marketable security. “Property” includes, but is not limited to, financial instruments, information, including electronically produced data, and computer software and programs in either machine or human readable form, and any other tangible or intangible item of value.“Services” includes, but is not limited to, computer time, data processing, and storage functions.
  4. To “use” means to instruct, communicate with, store data in, retrieve data from, or otherwise make use of any resources of a computer, computer system, or computer network.
Offenses Against Computer Users

In Colorado, offenses against computer users is a charge covering a wide variety of “hacking,” “cracking” and damaging online behavior. If you are charged with an offense against computer users, prosecutors believe you have: accessed the computer and/or network of another without permission, disrupted, denied, or caused the denial of computer system services of another, destroyed, taken, damaged, or injured computer equipment or supplies of another that were used or intended to be used in a computer or network, or introduced computer contaminants (viruses) into the computer or network of another.

Depending on the circumstances, the penalties for this crime cover a broad ranger of years. Additionally, thanks to the interstate nature of cyber crimes, there may be jurisdictional issues with offenses against computer users. Because the Internet crosses state lines, you may be charged with a cyber crime in more than one jurisdiction, including federal charges as well as charges in another state. A good Colorado cyber crimes criminal defense attorney can help sort out the charges against you and mount the best defense possible on your behalf.

Cyber crime (computer crime) is an evolving area of the law. As technology grows, so does the law and the manner in which the legal community interprets technology. As the law is written, there are those who will argue that the current state of the law (as intended by the legislature) does not incorporate new technology, is vague and over broad and may be unconstitutional.

Computer and internet crimes often require the use of a forensic expert in order to combat the charges. In such cases, it is useful to obtain a mirror image of a defendant’s hard drive and obtain analysis by an independent forensic expert to fully explore all possible defenses. It is not uncommon for perpetrators of internet crimes to reroute their activities through the IP addresses of perfectly innocent individuals, resulting in unfounded criminal charges.

With less than twenty years of legal precedent, the laws governing the use of computers and internet are fluid and constantly open to new interpretations. Computer and internet activities that were legal can become illegal with little warning, and activities that existed in a legal “grey” area can suddenly be vigorously prosecuted by the state without precedent. If you have been charged with any kind of computer or internet crime, you should immediately consult with experienced counsel. Because many of these charges can result in extremely serious sentences upon conviction, it is important to retain experienced counsel familiar with defending these types of crimes, such as the Gillespie Law Firm.

Computer Crimes Defense: Search and Seizure Laws

One defense in computer crime cases is to challenge the validity of the search/seizure of the computer. In Colorado, officers must have a search warrant to search or seize your computer, absent a specific exception. In the case of computers, these exceptions rarely apply.

If a computer is searched or seized pursuant to a search warrant, there are multiple defenses that may nonetheless apply. For example, the officers executing the search warrant may have exceeded the scope of the search warrant, may have executed a stale search warrant, or may have obtained the search warrant for an improper or illegal purpose. Additionally, the search warrant itself may have been invalid if, for example, the search warrant was unreasonably broad, failed to particularly describe the places or things to be searched or seized, or was not based on sufficient probable cause.

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