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We use computers for just about everything, so it should come as no surprise they are increasingly being used to commit crimes, collectively referred to as computer crimes.
While computer crimes are a relatively new phenomenon, they are constantly evolving as criminals adopt new tactics, and legislators are struggling to catch up.
Make no mistake, however. They will…eventually. We anticipate that sooner than later the already-broad definitions of computer crimes will continue to expand, and prosecution will increase.
In fact, there are already a handful of computer crimes considered to be capital offenses — that is, they are punishable by life without parole or death.
Computer crimes are broadly defined as any criminal offense targeting a computer, using a computer to commit a crime, or gaining unauthorized access to a computer or network.
Essentially, if you use a computer to commit a crime (any crime), this could be prosecuted under computer crime statutes.
Further, because computer crimes frequently involve intrastate communication, those that do are deemed as having crossed state lines, qualifying them as federal-level computer crimes.
Any computer crime charges are serious. However, a few computer crimes are considered capital offenses, punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
This is the act of gaining access to secrets without the authorization of whatever party holds that information, whether it’s sensitive, classified or personal. This information can be obtained from individuals, corporations, governments or enemies.
Typically, the information is used for personal, political, economic or military gain, and is obtained using computers, computer networks or the internet using hacking, viruses or malware.
This is the act of betraying one’s country. If you use a computer in the commission of treason, this could be prosecuted as a capital cybercrime. The specific laws surrounding “cyber treason” are still being defined.
The Constitution states:
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
This means that unless the acts, committed with or without a computer, actively waged war against one’s country or state, or the individual provided aid to enemies of the United States, the acts cannot be treason.
Cyber terrorism involves politically motivated use of computers to cause widespread fear or societal unrest. This can include intentional, large-scale disruption of computer networks through the use of malware and viruses.
Cyber terrorism can also involve the intentional use of computers to cause harm or destruction for personal reasons that are political or ideological. However, this has a very broad scope, and alleged crimes are nearly always debatable.
Cyber warfare involves actions by a nation-state to infiltrate another nation or state’s computers or computer networks to cause a disturbance or damage.
Other definitions expand cyber warfare to include acts committed by non-state actors such as terrorist groups, political extremist groups, “hacktivists,” corporations and crime organizations.
Cyber warfare can include cyber espionage, sabotage, denial-of-service attacks, or attempts to hack the electric grid.
Capital computer crimes are relatively uncommon, but computer crimes in general are very common. In fact, due to the broadening definitions and legislation, computer crimes are now actively on the radar of both local and federal law enforcement.
Common Colorado computer crimes include:
As criminals increasingly use computers to commit crimes of all forms, we can expect computer crimes to continue surfacing as a prime priority for lawmakers and law enforcement alike. Therefore, we can easily expect charges will increase, and stiff penalties will be handed down.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.