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Boston Criminal Defense Law Blog

What is a federal computer crime?

The advent of the Internet has spawned a variety of criminal activities that are commonly referred to as "cybercrimes," "computer crimes," and "network crimes." The terms are used interchangeably and do not vary in their meaning. A Massachusetts who resident commits one of the enumerated crimes involving computers may be charged with one or more serious federal crimes.

The most sweeping Federal statute that defines computer crimes is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was first passed in 1984. The statute has been amended several times, but its central focus remains unchanged: whoever accesses a computer or computer network with intent to commit one or more of the acts identified in the statute can be charged with a computer crime. Specific crimes include obtaining national security information, obtaining information from a computer that the defendant does not own or is not authorized to use, trespassing in a government computer, using a computer to defraud and obtain value and extortion involving computers.

Criminal defense: what is the function of a federal grand jury?

Federal courts in Massachusetts and elsewhere use two kinds of juries: petit and grand. Petit juries hear evidence at trial and return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The work of grand juries focuses on investigating federal crimes to determine whether probable cause exists that a certain person committed a certain crime. Its work is usually conducted in secret sessions, and its functioning is much less well understood by the general public.

The grand jury was developed in England beginning with its inclusion in Magna Carta in 1215. It migrated to America with many other legal institutions prior to 1776. When the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written in 1787, the grand jury was given a specific function by the Fifth Amendment: "[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on the presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury..." The Supreme Court has ruled than an infamous crime is one punishable by one or more years of imprisonment.

Why failing a breath test does not always mean an OUI conviction

As you are driving home, police officers stop you. They ask you to take a breath test and you comply; the results indicate an illegal breath alcohol count. Now you face an OUI case against you.

In this situation, many people make the major mistake of just giving up. Instead of consulting a lawyer, they plead guilty and accept the often burdensome consequences. After all, what is there to do when the prosecution has your failed breath test?

Facing drug charges: key terms

As certain drugs become legal in some states, people may believe that the war on drugs is nearing an end. However, this is far from true, and those who face charges for drug trafficking or distribution may have long roads ahead of them.

In such cases, it can be helpful to understand the various aspects of the charges. The last article reviewed the difference between drug trafficking and distribution. In regards to those charges, there are a few key terms that can have a great impact.

Facing drug charges: trafficking versus distribution

The sale and distribution of drugs can have strong, and sometimes fatal, ramifications. In efforts to regulate such negative effects, the government enforces strict regulations.

Those facing drug charges may have to deal with serious penalties.

What does it mean to "take the Fifth" in one's defense?

One of the most widely known phrases from American criminal law is "pleading the Fifth." While many people in Massachusetts are familiar with the phrase, very few know exactly what the phrase means. The phrase refers to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and "pleading the fifth" means that a defendant or a witness is invoking that amendment as the ground for refusing to testify in a state or federal criminal trial.

The Fifth Amendment states that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This phrase is often referred to as the right to avoid self-incrimination. The right arose during the 17th century in England. Many people were coerced or tortured into confessing their religious affiliation; silence was treated as an admission of guilt. When the Puritans and other religious sects fled to America, they were determined to establish the right of witnesses to refuse to testify if the answer might incriminate them. This right eventually became codified in the Fifth Amendment.

What is the National Sex Offender Public Registry?

All fifty states, including Massachusetts, require convicted sex offenders to provide certain information about their current residence, employment and related life information. The purpose of compiling this information is to allow members of the public to check up on sex offenders who may have moved into their neighborhood or have begun working for a local employer after being convicted of a sex crime in another jurisdiction.

The National Sex Offender Public Registry was established in 2005 to permit people to search sex offender registries in different states. The NSOPR was deemed necessary because sex offenders often moved to a state where their names were not registered and then committed another sex crime, thereby defeating the purpose of the state's sex offender registry program. The NSOPR has now become the National Sex Offender Public Website, an Internet based database that allows the public to search sex offender registries in each of the fifty states and tribal and territorial governments.

What is a computer crime in Massachusetts?

Computers have infiltrated the lives of almost everyone who lives in Massachusetts, and the English language has consequently incorporated new verbs and nouns -- spam, viruses, malware, identify theft and hacking, to name a few. Despite the advantages of living in the digital age, a few malefactors have found ways to subvert computers to in order to commit a crime. The Massachusetts legislature has responded by identifying certain computer actions as felonies.

The defining element in the Massachusetts computer crime statute is "intent to defraud." Anyone who commits any of several enumerated acts with fraudulent intent is guilty of a computer crime and may be subject to imprisonment for up to two-and-a-half years and a fine of $3,000. Specific crimes include obtaining access to a commercial computer system, using a computer as part of a scheme to defraud and using or modifying data on a computer system.

What is a 'terroristic threat' in Massachusetts?

Ever since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, many states, including Massachusetts, have passed laws making "terroristic threats" a crime. Prior to passage of such laws, the actual use of guns, explosives and biological agents was covered by the general criminal laws of the states. Now, however, the making of threats to cause violence, whether or not the violence actually occurs, is a serious felony.

The crime of "terroristic threat" is defined as the willful communication of a threat (1) that a rifle, machine gun, an explosive or incendiary device, a dangerous biologic agent or any of several other substances capable of causing death or serious bodily injury is present or will be used at a specified place or location; or (2) that an aircraft, ship or common carrier will be hijacked, thereby causing anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort.

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