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NY Penal Law § 156.20: Computer Tampering in the Fourth Degree

July 4, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

In the New York criminal code, the definition of  “unlawful access of computers” is illegally accessing a computer or computer network, or allowing another person to have access. Unauthorized access of a computer can include a number of different activities including figuring out another person’s password and using it to access that person’s computer, giving a password to another person who does not have authorization to access the computer, hacking into someone’s computer via the internet, or pretending to be another person in order to access computer services that would otherwise not be available to you. If you gain access to a computer without the owner’s authorization, and then you alter or destroy data on the computer, then you would have committed the crime of computer tampering. In the New York criminal code, there are 4 different computer tampering crimes. The specific charge that you would be looking at greatly depends on your prior criminal history, the amount of damage you inflict, and your purpose for altering or destroying the computer data. Of the computer tampering crimes, computer tampering in the fourth degree is the least serious one. According to New York Penal Law § 156.20, you will have committed the crime of computer tampering in the fourth degree if

  1. you use or access a computer, computer service, or computer network without the owner’s authorization and 
  2. with intent to do so, you alter or destroy computer data or the computer program of another person.

For Example

Elizabeth has a 4.0 GPA and is right on course to get accepted by the college of her choice. While she was in the first semester of her junior year in high school, Elizabeth was having a hard time in her honors math class. She was about to get a C in the class, which would drag her average down. Although Elizabeth was committed to continuing to work hard, even planning taking a few summer classes to help bump her GPA back up, her mother had other plans. Without Elizabeth knowing, her mom hacked into the school’s computer system and changed Elizabeth’s honors math grade. In this scenario, Elizabeth’s mom could be prosecuted for computer tampering in the fourth degree because, without the school’s authorization, she accessed one of their computers and she altered the data.

Offenses that are Related

Unauthorized use of a computer: New York Penal Law § 156.05

Computer trespass: New York Penal Law § 156.10

Criminal possession of computer related material: New York Penal Law § 156.35

Computer tampering in the third degree: New York Penal Law § 156.25

Computer tampering in the second degree: New York Penal Law § 156.26

Possible Defenses

A prosecutor would have a hard time pushing forward with a case against you if you can bring evidence that someone other than you used your computer without your knowledge or without your permission to alter or destroy data on another computer.

The Sentence

Computer tampering in the fourth degree is categorized as a class A misdemeanor. What this means to you is that if you are convicted, the maximum prison sentence that you could get is 1 year. The judge could also sentence you to a probation term of 3 years as well as a substantial fine.



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