Pennsylvania College Student Defense: Cybercrimes

College can be tough. It's not just about trying to pass classes. It is your first foray into actual adulting. You've got to figure out parking, learn how to get along with a roommate, and master separating your colors from your whites. A disciplinary charge, though, can make college infinitely harder. Pennsylvania schools take a dim view of cybercrime, like hacking and identity theft. One misstep can get you suspended or even expelled.

Break into your school's computer to change your grades, and you're not just looking at school sanctions. Hacking, identity theft, fraud—these aren't just violations of school policy. They're crimes. Like anyone else, if you break state or local laws, you can be arrested and possibly sent to jail. And make no mistake: being a student doesn't protect you from prosecution. You're actually more likely to be caught than average, everyday citizens.

What do you do if it happens to you, if you're charged with cybercrime by either your school or local law enforcement? The simple answer is: You hire an attorney. You're in a complex situation, though; not just any lawyer will do. You might be facing disciplinary charges; you might be facing criminal charges; there's every possibility you may be facing both. You need someone, then, who can handle both. In Pennsylvania, that means you need our Criminal Law Team at LLF Law Firm.

Crime Detection on Pennsylvania Campuses

Obviously, cybercrime isn't a phenomenon that's limited to college campuses. Anyone in Pennsylvania can be charged, from the fourteen-year-old in Philadelphia who's downloading a bootleg copy of Black Adam to the eco-terrorist trying to take down corporate websites from the Pittsburgh suburbs.

You're a university student, though, meaning you run a greater risk of detection than your fellow citizens. Why? No place in America is monitored the way colleges and universities are. You're surrounded by other students, faculty, staff, and administrators. All of those people are paying close attention to what you do, and most are zealous—often overly zealous—about protecting the school. It's almost impossible to get away with a crime, even cybercrime.

You'll face stiff penalties from your school if caught, but you can also expect the school to take their accusation to law enforcement. As a starting point, Pennsylvania campus police forces, like those at Penn State, The University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University are fully entitled to to enforce public laws. Most officers are trained at police academies. They are skilled investigators and will refer cases to local prosecutors.

So maybe right now you're only facing an accusation from your college, but a criminal charge may very well follow. You need someone on your side who can respond to campus disciplinary charges, but who can pivot to handle a criminal investigation and prosecution if those should arise. You need our Criminal Law Team at LLF Law Firm.

Pennsylvania Cybercrime Laws

Let's start with the criminal side of the equation. You may be under the impression that what you do on campus isn't subject to criminal investigation. Many students are. They assume the worst problem they might have to deal with is a disciplinary misconduct charge and—if things get really out of hand—probation or suspension from the college. The fact is, as a college student, you're no less subject to arrest and prosecution than any other Pennsylvania citizen. You need to know the law just like anyone else.

Computer Criminal Activity on Pennsylvania College Campuses

Pennsylvania's criminal code actually has an entire chapter devoted to cybercrime, with five distinct subchapters. Among the various prohibitions in that chapter, the law bars you from

  • Unlawful use of computers and email (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7611): This involves using a computer or other digital device to destroy or interfere with the normal operations of any other computer, web site, or electronic system. In addition, the law specifically forbids the use of computers to commit fraud, including publishing anyone's digital passwords without authorization.
  • Computer theft (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7613): This refers to the use of a computer or other digital device to access, copy, or take digital data from someone else without their permission. Hacking into your professor's laptop to get an advanced copy of the upcoming exam would qualify.
  • Computer trespass (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7615): This refers to the use of a computer or other digital device to remove data or, in other ways, do damage to a computer or computer system.
  • Distribution of a computer virus (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7616): Even the act of intentionally spreading malware is an offense under Pennsylvania law.

All of these crimes are treated as third-degree offenses in Pennsylvania, meaning they are subject to punishment with up to 7 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000.

Defending New Jersey Student Cybercrime Charges

An arrest for cybercrime—even a charge of cybercrime by local prosecutors—doesn't necessarily mean you'll be convicted, fined, or sent to prison. You have rights, just like anyone else in America, and your status as a student doesn't negate those. Among the most important of your rights: the right to legal representation. Pennsylvania, like every other state in the US, recognizes that the law is complex, more complex than the average citizen can usually grasp. Thus, we give all defendants the right to an attorney, someone to help you navigate the justice system and someone to make sure no one violates any of your due process rights.

What can our Criminal Law Team do for you if you're charged with cybercrime in Pennsylvania?

  • Represent you at your arraignment and make sure you're released with non-restrictive bond terms, so you can help prepare your defense and continue to attend classes.
  • Use preliminary examination procedures to find holes in the prosecution's case. Misidentification, the failure to preserve evidence, and the failure to document observations correctly—can all be used to argue that you've been unfairly charged.
  • Employ your rights of discovery to get mitigating and even exonerating evidence from the police and prosecution and use that evidence to get you acquitted or to have the charges dismissed.
  • File pretrial motions if any of your constitutional rights were violated by the police. Such motions can also get charges dismissed.
  • Represent you at trial, making opening and closing statements, submitting evidence, and examining and cross-examining witnesses.
  • Force the prosecution to meet the highest possible burden to prove your guilt.
  • File post-trial motions and appeals regarding any adverse findings, prosecutorial misconduct, or errors by the court.

Our Pennsylvania Student Discipline and Criminal Defense Team has successfully represented hundreds of students nationwide against all kinds of criminal charges, including cybercrime charges.

Pennsylvania College and University Cybercrime Policies

Now that you have a sense of what Pennsylvania law has to say about cybercrime, let's consider how schools treat computer misuse.

To begin with, you can expect your Pennsylvania college or university to follow state and local laws. Most schools even include this as a rule in their own policies. Penn State's Student Code of Conduct for instance, bars "Violation of law: Any action or behavior which violates federal, state, or local law." In other words, violate the law in any way, and you are automatically subject to school discipline, including suspension and expulsion.

Beyond such broad prohibitions, college and university policies often have their own rules that echo what the law says. Carnegie Mellon's rules, for instance include bans on

  • Invasion of or accessing personal files or a computer account other than one's own
  • Intentional misrepresentation of self or another individual through electronic communication or any other means
  • Destruction of another person's work, specifically through the use of computer facilities

In fact, university policies are usually more restrictive than state and local laws. Thus, even if you haven't done anything that's technically illegal, you could still be accused of violating policy. For example, turning in a paper you downloaded from an online paper mill might not rise to the legal definition of fraud, but it can get you charged with academic misconduct. Likewise, hacking into your school's mainframe to change your chemistry grade might not be enough to send you to prison. It could get you expelled, though.

Pennsylvania College and University Policies Towards Copyright Infringement

One important form of cybercrime that we haven't yet mentioned is digital piracy. Pennsylvania doesn't have its own laws regarding digital piracy. The federal government does, however, and all Pennsylvania colleges and universities maintain strict policies against copyright infringement. As a result, student codes of conduct almost always include statements prohibiting any sort of copyright violations. Bucknell University's policy, for instance, reads

"Students should not use Bucknell technology resources to violate federal, state or local laws or regulations, or university policies. This includes the illegal use of non-licensed software or other material in violation of copyright law, or the illegal download of digital content in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)."

Even minor instances of infringement can get you into trouble. Some professors, for example, will charge you with academic misconduct if you borrow images from online and insert them into your work.

In addition, you should know that most colleges and universities these days employ tracking software designed to catch anyone using the school's network to illegally download software or any sort of copyrighted content.

Pennsylvania College and University Disciplinary Procedures

If you've been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, your school may wait on the outcome of any criminal proceedings before it initiates its own disciplinary proceedings. However, you can expect to face school charges, even if you should eventually be exonerated by the courts or your criminal case should be dismissed. Of course, you don't have to be facing a criminal investigation to be charged by your school with violating policy. Again, most university rules are more restrictive than the law.

The actual processes for handling code violations vary from university to university. Most often, though, they involve an investigation, some sort of adjudication—usually a hearing—and an opportunity to appeal. You should have the chance to tell your side of the story, to present evidence, and to call witnesses to help corroborate your version of events.

The University of Pittsburgh's disciplinary process offers a good example.

  • Complaints of misconduct are referred to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • A representative from the Office of Student Conduct determines whether the allegation meets the standard of a conduct code violation.
  • If the allegation does not concern an actual code violation, the case is dismissed. Otherwise, the case is handled by either a Level I hearing or a Level II hearing.
  • A level I hearing is less formal. Complainants are not involved and Respondents have no right to call witnesses. A level II hearing, on the other hand, involves presentations from both sides including the submission of evidence and the examination and cross-examination of witnesses.
  • In either case, you have the right to appeal the hearing outcome to the Director of Student Conduct. However, grounds for appeal are limited to
    • Whether your rights were denied during the process
    • Whether procedures were followed correctly
    • Whether the outcome meets the facts of the case
    • Whether sanctions fit the finding
    • Whether any new evidence has arisen

You should note that having an attorney to handle a school disciplinary charge is equally as important as having one handle a criminal charge. An attorney can help you prepare your defense, coach you in how to respond to questions, and in most cases accompany you to meetings and proceedings. You want to make sure, though, that you have an attorney with experience in dealing with faculty and administrators. You want someone who knows how to navigate campus judicial systems. You want to someone who understands just how much is at stake in a student misconduct case.

Premier Pennsylvania Student Defense Team, LLF Law Firm

Our Criminal Law Team are skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys who have built our careers representing student clients. We're comfortable in the courtroom, but we're just as comfortable standing in front of a university appeals board. Our Criminal Law Team knows the challenges you face as a student. No matter what kind of charges you're facing—criminal or disciplinary—we want you to get a fair hearing and the best possible resolution to your case. We also want to ensure your education doesn't suffer while you go through the process of defending yourself. If you're a student in trouble—no matter what the charges—invest in an attorney who knows how to handle whatever may come up. Protect your education and your future. Contact our Student Discipline and Criminal Defense Team now at 888-535-3686 or go online for help.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.