Satellite Theft Lawyers

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 What Is Theft?

In short, theft is defined as the unauthorized taking of another person’s property coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property. The criminal element of “taking” is further defined as seizing control over the property. Within both federal and state theft law statutes, there are many different forms of theft crimes. Therefore, it is important to understand the different forms of theft crimes and the respective penalties for each crime.

Typically, theft is charged as a misdemeanor. This means that the punishments for common forms of theft often carry criminal penalties of small fines of up to $500, imprisonment of less than one year, or a combination of both. However, there are also many forms of theft that can also be charged as a felony. Punishments for individuals charged with a felony can include large fines for more than $10,000, imprisonment for over a year, or a combination of both.

What Is Satellite Theft?

In the past, satellite theft was commonly achieved by illegally receiving satellite signals through the use of hacked satellite signal receivers. However, as satellite services have evolved, so have the ways in which satellite services may be stolen. For example, with DirectTV and other satellite box providers, the new trend in satellite theft is the use and sale of pirated (i.e. hacked) access cards. These pirated cards give the user of the cards the ability to receive unscrambled satellite signals from the satellite provider without having to register for a service with the provider or pay monthly subscription fees.

Examples of some of the most commonly used hacked devices for satellite theft include:

  • Hacked Access Cards: A hacked access card is a satellite card that has been reprogrammed or pirated to allow the user of the card to illegally intercept and decrypt a satellite providers signal’s and receive television programming without making any payment to the provider;
  • Emulators: Emulators are devices connected to computers that run software that grants unauthorized access to channels that would otherwise require a subscription or payment for use;
  • Programmers: Programmers are hacked devices that reprogram an access card to alter which channels are able to be received by that card; and/or
  • Unloopers: Unloopers are devices that are used by hackers to fix or unlock access cards that are affected by a satellite provider’s anti-theft measures.

Is it Illegal to Sell or Use Hacked Cards and Devices?

In short, yes. Both federal and state laws protect satellite transmission providers against pirating practices by imposing criminal penalties and fines against both sellers and users of hacked cards and devices that are used to receive satellite transmissions. In addition to criminal penalties, sellers or users of hacked cards and devices may also be sued civilly for the profits lost by the satellite providers.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) is the federal Act that prohibits a person from providing any device or service that effectively circumvents a technological measure to grant access to copyrighted works. Importantly, an individual can be punished under this federal law regardless of whether or not there is an actual infringement of the copyright itself. The criminal penalties under the Act are severe, and depending on the severity and nature of the offense, an individual found guilty can face criminal fines of up to $500,000, up to 10 years of imprisonment, or a combination of both.

As can be seen above, criminal charges against an individual that utilizes hacked equipment may be brought in federal court under the DMCA, but an individual may also be criminally charged under other criminal legal theories. Many states have state specific laws that address both the criminal acts of selling and utilizing hacked satellite cards. However, in some states, the use of hacked cards and devices may result in criminal charges being brought against the individual accused of the criminal act under the criminal statutes involving the crime of receiving stolen property.

An individual commits the offense of theft by receiving stolen property when that individual receives, disposes of, or retains stolen property that they know or should have known was stolen. One of the main legal defenses to this crime is receiving, disposing, or retaining the property with the intent to restore the property to the owner.

However, in the case of utilizing a card to receive stolen signals, this defense will not be applicable to the user of the stolen card or hacked equipment. In legal terms, receiving is defined as acquiring possession or control or lending on the security of the property.

Thus, the elements of the crime of theft by receiving stolen property in Georgia are:

  • The accused person bought or received the goods;
  • At the time the goods were bought or received, the property had been stolen by someone other than the accused person; and
  • That at the time of receiving the property, the accused knew or should have known the property had been stolen.

What Must Be Proven to Be Convicted of the Crime of Receiving Stolen Property?

If all of the above criminal elements are satisfied, the individual accused of the crime of receiving stolen property will likely be charged and convicted. However, in order to be convicted of the crime, the prosecution must prove all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is important to note that the prosecution has no burden in first prosecuting the original thief, or even identifying the original thief. The prosecution must only show that the person in possession of the stolen property is not the original thief, and knew or should have known the property was stolen at the time that they acquired the property. In the case of receiving hacked equipment that receives signals that steal from satellite providers, proving the elements of the crime would only require showing that the accused individual utilized the card or equipment.

The most essential element of the crime of receiving stolen property is that the individual accused of the crime knew or should have known the property was stolen. It is important to note that the prosecution is not required to have the direct testimony of the accused to prove the element concerning knowledge of wrongdoing, but rather the element may also be proved through circumstantial evidence, such as their use of the hacked equipment or card.

Circumstantial evidence can include a variety of different evidence, such as the accused individual’s:

  • Conduct and behavior;
  • Evidence of the criminal nature of the person whom the property was acquired from.
  • Although conviction of the principal thief is not required, if the original thief is convicted of the crime of distributing stolen equipment or fraud then that evidence may be used in the conviction of those the property was distributed to;
  • The type of property that was received;
  • The price paid for the property. For example, if an individual paid funds knowing they were receiving equipment that could steal satellite signals, they may be convicted of the crime of receiving stolen property; and
  • The time of day when the property was received. For example, if an individual acquired the hacked satellite cards from a satellite employee at night after the store’s closing in the store’s parking lot, the circumstantial evidence may be enough to convict the individual of the crime of theft by receiving stolen property.

Once again, the prosecution has the burden of proving all of the elements of the crime of receiving stolen property beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if the prosecution’s evidence against the accused is only circumstantial, there must be enough circumstantial evidence to rule out any other explanations other than the accused is guilty of the crime of theft by receiving stolen goods.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Satellite Theft?

As can be seen, the penalties for satellite theft may be severe. Therefore, if you have been accused of satellite theft, you should consult with an experienced and local fraud lawyer as soon as possible.

An experienced attorney will be able to assist you in raising any applicable legal defense in your case. An attorney can also represent you throughout the criminal legal process and at any necessary hearings.

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