Have you Been Charged with Computer Theft in Georgia?
Computer crimes, also known as cyber crimes, include many diverse offenses ranging from computer theft to phishing scams, to credit card fraud, and intellectual property violations. It can be difficult to ascertain the subtle differences between each crime, so it is important to hire a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney. The legal system is tough to navigate on your own and particularly challenging when the laws concerning a crime are vague. Contact our offices today to see how we can assist with your case.
What is Computer Theft in Georgia?
Under O.C.G.A. §16-9-93(a), a person will be guilty of computer theft when they use a computer or computer network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of:
- Taking or appropriating any property of another, whether or not with the intention of depriving the owner of possession;
- Obtaining property by any deceitful means or artful practice; or
- Converting property to such person's use in violation of an agreement or other known legal obligation to make a specified application or disposition of such property.
O.C.G.A. §16-9-92(18) defines “without authority” to include the use of a computer or computer network in a manner that exceeds any right or permission granted by the owner of the computer or computer network.
Georgia Case Law
A woman worked for the property management division of a real estate brokerage when she was charged and convicted of computer theft. DuCom v. State, 288 Ga. App. 555, (2007). In this case, the accused decided to start her own company and she offered to purchase the master client list from her bosses. They refused her offer so she, without authority, copied the master client list and used it to transfer her employer's clients to her own business. During the trial, she argued that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of computer theft. However, evidence showed that she used a computer without authority to appropriate data for her own purposes. Therefore, she was convicted of computer theft.
In another case, an employee was not found guilty of computer theft. Drawdy CPA Servs., P.C. v. N. GA CPA Serv., P.C., 320 Ga. App. 759, (2013). An employer sued his employee claiming that she breached her employment agreement by creating her own CPA firm and then soliciting his clients. He also accused her of knowingly accessing the client's files on his network by obtaining passwords gained through her employment. However, she argued and presented evidence that she never accessed the clients via his network and that she obtained the passwords from the clients themselves and not through her employment. Therefore, the Court found that there was no evidence that she committed computer theft.
Penalty for Computer Theft in Georgia
A person convicted of computer theft in Georgia will receive a fine up to $50,000, up to 15 years in prison, or both.
However, if a person or property was injured because of the computer theft, the victim may sue to recover any damages sustained and the cost of the lawsuit. Damages can include loss of profits and any expense the victim had to pay because of the theft. However, the amount of restitution ordered cannot exceed the damage done to the victim.
Whether or not the crime will be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor will depend upon the value of the property stolen. Hight v. State, 221 Ga. App. 574, (1996). If the property is over $500, then the offense will be considered a felony. If the property is under $500, it will treated as a misdemeanor.
Lack of evidence: Without evidence that the accused used a network without permission, then they cannot be guilty of computer theft.
Consent: Consent of the owner of the computer or computer network to take property will be beneficial to your case. Evidence that shows consent will negate the elements required to obtain a computer theft conviction.
The intent was not to deprive the owner of possession: One type of computer theft requires that the taking is with the intention of depriving the owner of possession. If another purpose can be proven, that could help establish an acceptable defense.
What are Not Defenses
Accident: Even if the taking of property was accidental, evidence that you used a computer or network knowing that you did not have authority would be sufficient to obtain a conviction.
Computer crimes can be highly technical and difficult to understand on your own. That is why Lawson and Berry are here to help. Our team of Georgia Computer Crime Attorneys has over 50 years of criminal defense experience and is ready to assist you with your case today. Call us today.