Computer crimes are serious offenses under South Carolina law, and individuals can be charged with these crimes under a broad range of circumstances. If you have been charged with a computer crime, it will be important for you to know: (i) the specific allegations against you, (ii) the penalties that are on the table, and (iii) the defenses you may have available.
Computer and Internet-Related Crimes Under South Carolina Law
Some of the most-commonly-charged computer crimes under South Carolina law include the following:
1. Violations of the Computer Crime Act
South Carolina’s Computer Crime Act (CCA) outlines a series of computer-related crimes that range from first-degree to third-degree offenses. The primary provisions of the statute make it illegal to:
“[W]ilfully, knowingly, maliciously, and without authorization or for an unauthorized purpose . . . :
(a) directly or indirectly access or cause to be accessed a computer, computer system, or computer network for the purpose of: (i) devising or executing a scheme or artifice to defraud; (ii) obtaining money, property, or services by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises; or (iii) committing any other crime; or
(b) alter, damage, destroy, or modify a computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, or data contained in that computer, computer system, computer program, or computer network or introduce a computer contaminant into that computer, computer system, computer program, or computer network.”
As you can see, these prohibitions are extremely broad. Any criminal offense committed through the use of a computer can lead to charges for both the underlying offense and a violation of the Computer Crime Act. Hacking for illicit purposes, sending emails as part of a fraudulent scheme, and causing damage to computer systems are all examples of conduct that can be prosecuted under the CCA.
The severity of charges under the CCA depends on the amount gained or lost as a result of the conduct in question. Crimes involving $10,000 or more in value are first-degree offenses, crimes involving $1,000 to $9,999 in value are second-degree offenses, and those involving less than $1,000 in value are third-degree offenses.
2. Cyber Bullying
South Carolina’s Safe School Climate Act defines the offense of cyberbullying, and individuals accused of cyberbullying can face criminal charges for harassment or stalking under South Carolina’s criminal statutes. Learn more: What is Considered Cyberbullying in South Carolina?
3. Identity Theft
Identity theft is a felony offense in South Carolina. This includes using any of the following for purposes of gaining access to someone’s account, making a purchase, or conducting any other type of online transaction:
- Social security number
- Driver’s license number
- Checking or savings account number
- Credit or debit card number
- Personal identification number (PIN)
- Electronic identification number or digital signature
- Name or address
- Any other password or identifier used to access financial accounts or government information
4. Credit Card Theft
In addition to constituting a form of identity theft, using someone else’s credit card online can also be prosecuted as the felony crime of “financial transaction card or number theft” under South Carolina law.
5. Communicating Obscene Messages Without Consent
Sending any “obscene, profane, indecent, vulgar, suggestive, or immoral message” to another person over the Internet without that person’s consent is a misdemeanor offense in South Carolina.
6. Child Pornography and Online Child Solicitation
Possessing, creating, and distributing child pornography are all felony offenses in South Carolina. It is also a felony offense to use the Internet to, “knowingly contact or communicate with, or attempt to contact or communicate with, a person who is under the age of eighteen, or a person reasonably believed to be under the age of eighteen, for the purpose of or with the intent of persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing the person to engage or participate in a sexual activity.”
Penalties for Computer and Internet Crimes in South Carolina
The penalties for computer and Internet crimes in South Carolina vary depending upon the specific offense (or offenses) involved. For example, potential penalties for the crimes listed above include:
- First-degree CCA violations – Up to five years in jail and a $50,000 fine
- Second-degree CCA violations – Up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine
- Third-degree CCA violations – Up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine
- First-degree harassment (cyberbullying) – Up to three years in jail and a $1,000 fine
- Second-degree harassment (cyberbullying) – Up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine
- Stalking (cyberbullying) – Up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine
- Identity theft – Up to 10 years in jail and a fine “in the discretion of the court”
- Credit card theft – Up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine
- Communicating obscene messages without consent – Up to three years in jail and a fine “in the discretion of the court”
- Child pornography – Up to 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine
- Online child solicitation – Up to 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine
Keep in mind, these lists of crimes and penalties are not exhaustive. There are various other computer and Internet-related crimes under South Carolina law as well; and, depending upon the specific circumstances involved (i.e. if you are a repeat offender), you could be facing enhanced penalties.
Potential Defenses to Computer and Internet Crimes in South Carolina
In all cases involving alleged computer and Internet crimes, defendants will have a variety of potential defenses available. These include defenses based upon the specific statutory language at issue (i.e. lack of willfulness, knowledge or maliciousness under the Computer Crime Act), constitutional defenses (i.e. reliance on evidence obtained through an unlawful search or seizure), and other defenses recognized under South Carolina law. In order to mitigate the consequences of your arrest to the greatest extent possible, you need to begin building your defense strategy immediately, and this starts with hiring an experienced South Carolina defense attorney.
Schedule a Free Initial Consultation at Deaton Law Firm, LLC
If you need to speak with a criminal defense lawyer in North Charleston, contact Deaton Law Firm, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation. Call our offices at 843-225-5723 to request an appointment, or tell us how to reach you online, and we will be in touch as soon as possible.