The term computer trespass is used to refer to a specific type of computer crime. There are two ways in which computer crimes may be categorized. The first is when computers are used to facilitate more traditional crimes and illegal activity, such as:
The second category of computer crimes, more often known as hacking, involves offenders targeting their victim’s computer systems for the purpose of:
- Destroying; and/or
- Altering the systems, which frequently results in a data breach.
Some specific examples of computer crimes include, but may not be limited to:
- Accessing a computer, network, or system without authorization to do so;
- Modifying, damaging, utilizing, disclosing, copying, or taking computer programs or data;
- Intentionally introducing a virus into a computer system;
- Using a computer in a scheme intended to defraud a person;
- Interfering with someone else’s computer access or use of their own computer;
- Using encryption to aid a crime;
- Falsifying email source information, generally in an attempt to commit fraud; and
- Stealing an information service from a provider.
In the State of Washington, computer trespass as a crime is defined as when a person intentionally gains access to another person’s computer system, without permission to do so. This unauthorized access must also be made with the intent to commit another crime.
How Is Computer Trespass Different From Criminal Trespass?
Generally speaking, criminal trespass is defined as unlawful entry onto someone else’s private property without their permission. In order for the defendant’s actions to constitute trespassing, they must be aware of the fact that they do not have permission to be on the property.
Alternatively, they must be aware of the fact that any prior permission to be on the property has been expressly revoked by the owner. This knowledge fulfills the intent element of a criminal trespass charge, which is also known as mens rea. The actual entry fulfills the actus reus, or action element.
Some states have the added element that potential trespassers are to be given some sort of notice that their presence is unwanted. This can be as simple as a sign posted on the property, but is more commonly a physical barrier such as a fence, or closed doors to a private residence.
While walking onto someone else’s land or into someone else’s house or building are obvious forms of trespass, getting into someone’s vehicle without their permission also qualifies. Additionally, some states may have special statutes forbidding hunting game on private land.
The defining difference between criminal trespass and computer trespass would be that while criminal trespass requires physical entry into the victim’s private property, computer trespass does not require a physical invasion or presence.
What Is Computer Trespass In The First Degree? What Is Computer Trespass In The Second Degree?
As previously mentioned, computer trespass is when an individual intentionally gains unlawful access to an electronic database or computer system in order to commit another crime. However, in order to be charged with computer trespass in the first degree, the defendant needs to access a database or computer which is maintained by any government agency.
In Washington State, computer trespass in the second degree is a lesser charge. A defendant is considered to be guilty of computer trespass when they intentionally gain computer access without authorization. However, a government computer system was not involved, and the defendant did not commit or attempt to commit any other crime.
What Are The Factors Used To Determine Punishment Associated With A Computer Trespass Conviction?
It is important to note that you can be criminally punished for computer trespass in addition to any other crime that was committed. Additionally, many factors will be considered when determining what punishment will be associated with a computer crime, such as:
- The potential or actual value of the loss that was caused by the offense;
- The level of sophistication and planning involved in committing the offense;
- Whether the offense was intended for financial gain or commercial benefit;
- Whether the defendant acted with malicious intent;
- The extent to which the victim’s privacy was violated;
- Whether the offense targeted a computer that was used by the government; and
- Whether the offense was intended to threaten public health and safety.
What Are The Legal Penalties Associated With A Computer Trespass Conviction?
Computer trespass in the first degree is considered to be a Class C felony. The penalties for Class C felonies will vary based on the facts of each specific case, as well as the laws of the jurisdiction in which the defendant is being prosecuted. Additionally, because Class C felonies are generally midrange crimes, the penalties may amount to less than life in prison without parole, but will likely include some amount of jail time.
The standard amount of Class C felony jail time is generally between two to five years. However, it is possible to get a longer sentence, especially if the computer trespass conviction is associated with other crimes. Computer trespass in the first degree is generally penalized with up to five years spent in a federal prison facility, and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
Some other penalties for Class C felonies include:
- Monetary fines;
- Restitution; and/or
- Community service.
A Class C felony conviction can also result in a loss of certain rights and benefits, such as:
- Restrictions on voting;
- Serving on a jury;
- Owning firearms; and/or
- Securing a job and/or housing.
Computer trespass in the second degree is generally penalized as a gross misdemeanor. Gross misdemeanors are generally more serious than regular misdemeanors, and as such carry more harsh sentences. Each state’s criminal code defines what crimes are considered to be gross misdemeanors; what this means is that a crime that is considered to be a gross misdemeanor in one state may not be considered as such in another state.
In many cases, gross misdemeanors involve the defendant engaging in reckless behavior, meaning they knew or should have known the conduct they engaged in would cause harm to another individual. However, not every gross misdemeanor involves reckless conduct. Some include acts that are more serious than regular misdemeanors, but are still less serious than felonies.
Gross misdemeanors generally carry the following penalties if convicted:
- Jail time of up to one year, to be spent in a county jail facility and not a federal prison facility;
- Fines; and/or
More serious misdemeanors will result in longer jail sentences than less serious misdemeanors. Additionally, more serious misdemeanors will result in larger fines than less serious misdemeanors. A defendant may also be ordered to pay restitution, which is monetary compensation paid to the victim. Computer trespass in the second degree is punishable with less than one year spent in a county jail, as well as a maximum fine of $5,000.
Do I Need An Attorney For Washington State Computer Trespass?
If you are being accused of computer trespass in Washington State, you should consult with an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer. An area attorney can help you understand the state’s laws regarding computer trespass and what your rights are.
Your criminal defense attorney can provide you with relevant legal advice, and determine whether there are any legal defenses available to you based on the specifics of your case.