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State Bar of Texas

Cyber Crimes: Law, Penalties, and Defenses in Texas

Jerry W. Tidwell, Jr.

Cyber crimes and their penalties can be found in the Texas Penal Code Chapter 33.

Broadly speaking, computer crimes, or cyber crimes, are any crimes committed with a computer. It can include solicitation of a minor, hacking, defrauding, identity theft, breaching security, or damaging property.

cyber crimes

The Texas computer crimes statute covers all of the following crimes:

  • Accessing another computer or network without the consent of the owner;
  • Soliciting a minor under the age of 17 for the purpose of arranging a sexual encounter;
  • Accessing a computer system used for registering votes with the intention of changing or preventing others from voting;
  • Creating a fake social media site using another person’s identity without that individual’s consent and for the purpose of causing harm, committing fraud, or intimidating/threatening someone;
  • And impersonating someone else by referencing a domain, telephone number, address, or other identification with the intent of causing another to believe that the message is coming from that person.

While these may be the only crimes that are directly addressed in the Texas Penal Code Chapter 33, these laws are constantly updated as new technologies emerge.

In addition, there are also federal laws prohibiting other cyber crimes, like intentionally creating a computer virus.

Penalties and Classifications for Computer Crimes

If someone hacks into a computer network but does not do any damage to the network and does not steal any information from the network, the charge would be a Class B misdemeanor. This crime is punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail or a fine of up to $2,000. However, the crime could go up to a first-degree felony (punishable by life in prison) depending on how much money the individual steals and how much damage they do to the network.

Solicitation of a Minor

This is considered a third-degree felony. If the minor is under the age of 14, then it goes up to a second-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. second-degree felonies are punishable by to 20 years in state prison.

“Talking” dirty or sexually online to a minor, or to someone who represents themselves as a minor, is not inherently illegal. Texas courts have ruled that is “protected speech.” It becomes illegal when the arranged meeting moves from fantasy or talking about into an actual attempt to meet someone who is a minor (or even said they are a minor, because in reality, a large number of these cases are law enforcement stings) for a sexual encounter.

Tampering With a Voting Machine

Tampering with a voting machine is a first-degree felony which is punishable up to life in prison.

Online Harassment

Online harassment is either charged as a class A misdemeanor or a third-degree felony depending on what the individual doing the impersonating was hoping to accomplish.

Defenses to Illegally Accessing a Computer or Network

If you are accused of illegally accessing a computer that you were not authorized to access there are some ways to defend yourself. If the only link between you and the crime is your IP address, you can raise the defense that someone hacked into your network in order to attack someone else’s network.

However, if other evidence is found of the hacking, that defense goes out the window. You can expect that the police and investigators will confiscate your computer equipment if they suspect you of hacking. In some cases, they may charge a defendant with no more than an IP address linking them to the attack.

Hackers use what are called “botnets” to orchestrate sophisticated attacks on other networks. Many computers in the U.S. are part of a botnet without even realizing it. Again, it all depends on the quality of the evidence that is prosecution has and whether or not the investigators have done sufficient police work to link you to the crime.

Defenses to Illegally Soliciting a Minor

Solicitation is not the same as engaging in a sexual act.

One can raise the defense that they were not aware that the person whom they were attempting to solicit was, in fact, a minor. The police and prosecution are required to prove mens rea meaning “guilty mind.” They must prove that you knew the individual was a minor and that you attempted to solicit them anyway.

Defenses to Online Harassment or Impersonation

Online harassment and false impersonation can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. For obvious reasons, you do not want it to be charged as a felony.

The prosecution, if they have golden evidence implicating you in the crime, is left to theorize why you attempted to impersonate another person. If it’s for the purpose of committing fraud or causing that individual harm, then it’s likely to be taken quite seriously. Still, there is room to maneuver here. The prosecution may offer a plea. And it’s up to your lawyer to determine how the prosecution came about the information and whether or not the link is strong enough to exclude other possibilities.

What if I Did Not Do What They’re Accusing Of?

It’s very possible that you’ve been set up by a clever hacker who wanted to cover his or her tracks. Obviously, hackers aren’t going to use their laptop on their home network to steal credit card information, for example.

Depending on what kind of security type you use on your WIFI, it can be quite easy for even novice hackers to obtain an IP on your network. From there, they can do all sorts of things from a tablet, phone, or laptop.

If that’s the case, then there will be no trace of the offending conduct on your own computers and the only piece of evidence that they will have is an IP address. That case is beatable.

Contact a Texas Cyber Crime Attorney Today

If you’ve been accused of a cyber crime, you need to consult with a Texas criminal defense attorney right away. The Tidwell Law Firm has successfully managed cyber crime cases for our clients.

Give us a call or contact us online and we can begin discussing your situation today.

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