Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Internet Offenses

Developments in internet and digital technology have opened up a large number of opportunities for people. Improved communication and connectivity have allowed new possibilities for businesses, arts and sciences to flourish.

These technological developments have also opened the possibility to commit digital crimes. Hacking and cyber attacks started right after the invention of the internet during the nineties. As banks began to offer online account management facilities, cyber criminals turned to hacking customer accounts to redirect funds to their own accounts.

Identity theft is one of the crimes that have become easier with advancements in internet technology. The internet also allows criminals to gain access to children for exploitation. The Illinois legislators have made strict policies and punishments for online crimes committed against children.

One major internet-related offense is child pornography. Production, distribution or use of child pornography in any manner is strictly prohibited.

Financial scams and fraudulent schemes are also rampant online and included in the list of internet offenses.

Lastly, online harassment, stalking or threats are taken seriously by the law enforcing agencies and considered an internet offense.

State Legislation

Internet offenses are covered under various sections of ILCS.

Child Pornography is covered under 720 ILCS 5/11 and a person commits this crime when he or she knowingly takes part in the production, distribution or possession of images with children involved in sexual activity of any sort.

Online harassment and cyber stalking are covered under 720 ILCS 5/12. A person commits these crimes when he or she knowingly engages in online conduct that alarms, threatens or torments another person. The threats include physical harm or sexual assault and could be directed at the victim or one of their family members.

Identity theft laws are covered under 720 ILCS 5/16. A person commits identity theft when he or she knowingly uses another person’s documents or pretends to be another person to gain personal benefit for financial or non-financial reasons.

Computer fraud is covered under 720 ILCS 5/17. A person commits computer fraud when he or she knowingly accesses or allows access to a computer with the intent to defraud another person.

Some of the internet related offenses are covered under legislation not specifically meant for online crimes. For example, crimes related to selling controlled substances or counterfeit drugs online are covered under the relevant laws that cover these crimes offline as well.


Punishments depend on the nature of the crime. Some internet offenses, like child pornography or online terrorist activity can be charged as a Class X felony which is punishable by 6 – 30 years in prison.

Other internet offenses, like online harassment, may be charged as a Class C misdemeanor that leads to a maximum prison sentence of 30 days.


Most internet based offenses are charged in court after due investigation has been conducted by the law enforcing agencies. The prosecution heavily relies on evidence obtained during such an investigation.

Evidence is usually collected as hardware, data storage devices, internet activity logs and online time stamps.

While it is true that internet crimes do occur quite frequently, there is also a very high possibility of incorrect accusations and convictions. It is very difficult to prove someone’s identity online and match it to the right perpetrator.

There are plenty of instances where people get accused for an internet crime that took place from their workstation or personal computer. But during the trial, it becomes evident that the person was not responsible for the alleged felony as someone else was using their computer at the time of the crime.

Examples and Court Cases

For many cyber attackers, hacking is just an activity to test their skills and have some fun messing with people online. However, hacking is now taken quite seriously by the state even when there is no significant harm done.

In March 2018, a man from Maryland was sentenced to three months in prison for his role in a “hacker for hire” service. The online service used to shut down websites and harassed thousands of people around the world.

The man, Zachary Buchta 20, sobbed in court as the judge read out the sentence. The judge stated that hacking crimes are just as real as any other offense. They hurt businesses and people. While it may seem like a fantasy to the hacker, shutting down a website has real-world consequences.

Buchta had pleaded guilty in December to the charge of damaging protected computers. The offense carries a maximum prison term of ten years.

The prosecution had asked for a term of 2.5 years given his cooperation with authorities that led to the arrest of two more hackers. The defense had requested for probation.

Before the sentencing, Buchta had read a statement to the court where he apologized to his victims and laid out the steps he had taken to become a better person. He noted his achievements in obtaining a high-school degree, getting a regular job and addressing his anxiety issues. The young man pointed out that he had a lot to offer the world.

Minutes later, as the judge announced his sentence including prison time, Buchta burst into tears while his attorney consoled him. The defendant has also been sentenced to pay $350,000 to the two gambling companies that had been hacked by his schemes.

In a different case a high school student who had been accused of catfishing a teacher and circulating his nude photo was cleared of all charges by the court.

The 16 year old girl was charged with misdemeanor for disclosure of private images. The prosecution’s office reported that the school student obtained the teacher’s picture after pretending to be an adult on a gay dating app. She forwarded the picture a classmate who later shared it with five friends.

The defense attorney argued that the girl did not have the intention of humiliating the teacher by sharing the image. He also noted that the teacher could not have reasonable expectation of privacy after sharing his nude photo with a complete stranger.

These points were noted by the judge in his statement and the case was dismissed.

Possible Legal Defenses

The defense strategy for internet offenses depends on the charges brought forward against the accused. A common defense strategy is to deny that the offense was committed by the accused.

Establishing a link between the crime and the defendant is the prosecution’s responsibility and if there is room for doubt, this option should be explored.

Another option is to claim lack of knowledge about the questionable activity or material, such as pornographic images. This could work if the defendant can prove that other people also had access to the storage with the incriminating evidence.

In order to identify the best strategy suited to your particular case, you would need to work with a qualified expert.