Fourth Degree Computer Tampering: NY Penal Law 156.20

It is arguably a disservice to minimize a New York misdemeanor computer crime by comparing such a crime to an objectively more serious felony computer offense. Yes, a class “E” or “D” or “C” felony computer offense is far worse than a misdemeanor computer crime in New York, but your computer crime defense lawyer would likely be the first person to tell you that while there are greater collateral consequences and more significant penalties for violating a felony, a conviction for any misdemeanor will leave you battered and bruised. This holds true for all computer crimes including Fourth Degree Computer Tampering, New York Penal Law 156.20.

Fourth Degree Computer Tampering: Potential Punishment

Categorized as a class “A” misdemeanor with a punishment ranging from no jail to one year in custody, a post-conviction sentence for Fourth Degree Computer Tampering also raises the specter of three years probation, community service and fines. That aside, whether by admission of guilt by a plea worked out with the District Attorney or if you are convicted by a jury of your peers, there is no expungement process in New York State that can or will ever remove your PL 156.20 conviction from your record.

Fourth Degree Computer Tampering: Understanding the Criminal Law

Knowing the potential outcome, punishment and sentence for a NY PL 156.20 conviction is a good place to start, but understanding the criminal code is even more important so you can either avoid running afoul of the New York Penal Law or you and your criminal defense attorney can put forth the best and strongest defense. You are guilty of Fourth Degree Tampering if you use, cause to be used, or access a computer, computer service or computer network. When you do so, the law also requires that you do it without permission and in any capacity, you intentionally alter or destroy computer data or a computer program of another person.

This definition raises a few questions that you will need to further examine with your criminal defense lawyer, but ones that should be addressed briefly here. In no particular order, “computer network” and “computer service” likely have meanings most would understand, but they are defined in New York Penal Law 156.00(4) and 156.00(6) respectively. Even “without authorization” is legally defined pursuant to New York Penal Law 156.00(8). Although a fairly short code, the statutorily defined words extend to “computer program” and “computer data” where they are defined in New York Penal Law 156.00(2) and 156.00(3). Because this legal terminology is directly relevant to and are elements of an arrest and prosecution for Fourth Degree Computer Tampering, it is imperative that you review the criminal complaint charging you with PL 156.20 with your criminal defense lawyer so he or she can determine whether at the initial pleading stage and at the time the prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that District Attorney has met their burden.

When reviewing and digesting the voluminous information that you find yourself confronted with when arrested for Fourth Degree Computer Tampering or any New York computer crime, know that there is not only a potential statutory defense set for the criminal code, but merely because you are arrested for violating PL 156.20 is not proof positive that your rights were not violated or the complaint against you will withstand a motion to dismiss. While the defense or defenses to your arrest may be many, some questions your computer crime lawyer will ask may include how law enforcement links you to the destruction or altering of computer data or a computer program. Further, what is the basis by which the District Attorney concludes you lacked permission? Even if these questions are answered in a manner adverse to your case, did the police legally obtain your admission, how does IP information link to you, and was a search warrants secured, issued and executed within the bounds of the law? Simply, the legal challenges can be many or few, but you and your criminal lawyer must do your “homework” as early in the process as possible.

As you manage your arrest for Fourth Degree Computer Tampering whether you have already seen a judge or you are awaiting arraignment after being given a Desk Appearance Ticket by the NYPD, keep in mind that depending on the theory of the prosecution’s case, the District Attorney may be able to elevate your crime to Third, Second or even First Degree Computer Tampering if the damaged caused by your alleged acts exceeds $1,000.00, $3,000.00 or $50,000.00 respectively. Each of these crimes, New York Penal Law sections 156.25, 156.26 and 156.27 are all felonies.

Because even a misdemeanor conviction can set back your career plans, thrust your legal status or visa into jeopardy, and leave you unemployed, it is incumbent upon you to hire the right criminal lawyer who can use his or her experience, knowledge and advocacy to best put you in the strongest place resolve your case appropriately. A misdemeanor criminal conviction won’t ever go away and if you take the wrong steps today, nor will your embarrassment, shame and regret.

Call our New York computer crime lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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