New Virginia Computer Crime Law – Effective July 1, 2020
The General Assembly began work on computer crimes laws in the 1990’s. At that time, prior to me being a full-time Criminal Lawyer Fairfax Virginia, I served in the Virginia General Assembly, and as a member of the Criminal Law Sub-committee, helped write these laws. The problem was that existing law assumed some kind of contact between the defendant and the victim either in person or by mail. So when a crime was done by a computer, was it a crime? Was it a crime, for example, to disable another’s computer? Was it a crime to give someone else’s computer a virus? At the time, all of this was questionable. In response, numerous computer crimes laws were passed.
Over the years, loopholes in those laws appeared. Once such incident highlighted the problems. A woman, was pregnant, but unfortunately lost her baby due to a miscarriage. Certainly, an unfortunate thing to happen to any woman. This woman, however, presumably had mental health issues because her response was beyond belief. She put on the internet an ad stating that she was pregnant and wanted to give her baby up for adoption. A couple seeking a baby contacted her and then entered an agreement to adopt the baby upon birth. Unbeknownst to the prospective adoptive parents, the woman was not pregnant. Her purpose of putting the ad up was to get someone excited about having a baby and then reveal the miscarriage so “someone else would feel the pain of losing the baby.” This woman did not do this scam on the internet for financial gain for herself. If she did, it would have been covered by existing computer crimes laws.
For example, an experienced Criminal Lawyer Fairfax Virginia would point out that this existing law would have covered the crime:
§ 18.2-152.3. Computer fraud; penalty.
Any person who uses a computer or computer network, without authority and:
- Obtains property or services by false pretenses;
- Embezzles or commits larceny; or
- Converts the property of another;
is guilty of the crime of computer fraud.
If the value of the property or services obtained is $500 or more, the crime of computer fraud shall be punishable as a Class 5 felony. Where the value of the property or services obtained is less than $500, the crime of computer fraud shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
In the above described situation, the woman did it to inflict emotional damage and to cause others to spend money, even though she did not intend to receive any money.
In response, the Virginia General Assembly passed this law – effective July 1, 2020.
§ 18.2-152.7:2. Using computer to commit a scheme involving false representations; penalty.
Any person who, without the intent to receive any direct or indirect benefit, maliciously sends an electronically transmitted communication containing a false representation intended to cause another person to spend money, and such false representation causes such person to spend money, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Note that the intent to spend money is still an element of the crime. However, there is not requirement that the Defendant actually intends to receive any benefit. As a Criminal Lawyer Fairfax Virginia can point out, this new law says that there is no intent needed for the Defendant to directly benefit. All that must be proven is that the defendant did the following:
- Maliciously (e.g. with evil intent)
- Electronically communicate (e.g. e-mail, internet, social media)
- A false representation (e.g. a lie)
- With the intent to cause another person to spend money
- And the other person actually does spend money.
- The Defendant need not have the intent to receive any benefit.
The above listed 6 requirements are called “elements of the crime.” In the American system of justice, all of these elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt EXCEPT #6 which is a statement that the Prosecution need not prove that the Defendant intended to benefit. As an aside, I don’t know why this was included. If it was not included, the Prosecution still would only have to prove 1-5. But I surmise that the legislature wanted to make it clear that the Defendant need not have the intent to benefit.
Computer crimes are complicated and, as compared to most other criminal laws, are very new. Most computer crime laws are less than 30 years old, and some, like this new law, are brand new. If you are charged with a computer crime, it is best to contact an experienced Criminal Lawyer Fairfax Virginia, and search for one that has computer crime law experience. Call the office of Dave Albo – Attorney today.