Number one: You don’t defend yourself. These are extraordinarily serious charges that can change the course of your life. It is critical that you are represented by an attorney who is proficient in this field of criminal defense.
Number two: Talk to a lawyer before giving any statement to investigators. There is nothing you can say to talk your way out of trouble, but you can definitely talk your way into legal trouble. Very often, clients contact me after they have already been approached by state or federal investigators (and have said too much). Investigators typically arrive in pairs, without notice. They show up at the suspect’s home or workplace, hoping to catch the person off guard and intimidate them.
Here are a few very important factors to keep in mind if you’re facing computer-related criminal charges in Pennsylvania:
- Be proactive: Ideally, seek legal counsel if you have any inkling that you are under investigation for a computer-related crime such as fraud, identity theft, soliciting minors over the internet or possessing child pornography.
- Invoke your rights: If you are contacted by investigators, you absolutely have the right to decline to answer their questions until you have talked to an attorney, and you have a right to have an attorney present during questioning.
- Stop the bleeding: Even if you were already approached and you revealed damning information to investigators, we can mitigate the damage. But you need to start right away. I try to meet with clients the same day they call me.
Challenging The Charges And Mitigating The Consequences
Computer-related crimes are punishable by harsh jail or prison sentences and hefty fines. There are also serious collateral consequences. Your professional license could be at stake. You could be deemed an unfit parent and cut off from your children. You could be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years to life, which can limit where you are able to live and who you can be around. A criminal record for fraud or a sex offense can also affect your employment, housing and credit rating.
The first step in preparing your defense and mitigating the fallout is obtaining a forensic examination of your computer or cellphone. Although this device is probably in the custody of law enforcement, they must provide your lawyer with access to it so an independent forensic examination of the evidence can be conducted.
I have forensic computer examiners who can analyze the computer and the trail of cyber evidence. Their report may provide viable defenses, such as implicating other persons or revealing that the government made errors in collecting evidence or jumped to conclusions in their analysis.
In appropriate cases, such as child pornography, we also get clients into counseling immediately. A complete forensic psychiatric evaluation can work in your favor. Our expert psychiatrist can explain to the judge or prosecutor what led to the behavior and why it will never happen again. Our investigators also talk to character witnesses who can vouch for the accused.
In sex offender cases, knowledge is not a defense, but it can be a mitigating factor. For example, a person who is viewing adult pornography may download a package of a thousand or more images without knowing that some of the images feature minors. The state can still convict for unintentional possession of child pornography, but the judge may consider knowledge and intent at sentencing. I have had success convincing judges to be lenient in these circumstances.
Increasingly, social media and smartphones play a role in cybercrime prosecutions. Social media postings or text messages may lead to the discovery of incriminating evidence, and “sexting” can result in felony charges if any of the participants or recipients are underage. On the other hand, these mediums can be useful to the defense, such as messages or details about prosecution witnesses that cast doubt on their credibility. A good defense lawyer will examine every possible avenue to refute the allegations or minimize the potential punishment.
State Court Vs. Federal Charges
In state court, the district attorneys are more likely to proceed on the information they have and sort it out in court. This leaves opportunities to challenge the allegations and the admissibility of evidence. Federal prosecutors are more reluctant to file charges when there’s any possibility that they will lose. If we can sow seeds of doubt in the early stages, they may decline the case.
It is critical to hire a lawyer who has experience in computer crimes and a network of experts to aid in your defense. It is also important for your attorney to be well-versed in federal procedure or familiar with the local court and state laws on cybercrimes. I handle state court cases in western Pennsylvania and federal court cases statewide.
The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.
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