New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Blog Covering New Jersey and Federal Criminal Law and Procedure

Articles Posted in Law and Technology

Law enforcement agencies that investigate child pornography cases face special technological challenges when tracking the distribution of contraband on the Internet, and then in building a case against a specific defendant.  A case in point is “Dreamboard”, an online bulletin board that advertised and distributed child pornography.  Dreamboard users employed encryption software, peer-to-peer networks and the so-called “Dark Web” to share images between and amount members/subscribers in 13 different countries.  In fact, all Dreamboard subscribers were required to use specific encryption software when viewing and/or sharing images.  Further, each file description had a specific link and password which allowed access to images through another website that stored encrypted files.  Dreamboard was the target of a 2009 sting operation that resulted in approximately 70 convictions.  The site was infiltrated through the efforts of several dozen law enforcement agencies including, without limitation, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and 35 domestic ICE offices.

Dreamboard users obviously had to have both a level of technological skill, as well as the appropriate equipment and software, to be members.  The Dreamboard case was, however, not unique in this regard.  In a recent Louisiana case, a defendant set his computer to wipe the hard drive clean if a password was not entered within a few seconds of opening the device.  Another defendant asked an undercover agent posing as a minor to send him a picture during an online chat.  Law enforcement personnel are not allowed to distribute pornography, so the agent’s smartphone would not allow him to send a photo.  This ultimately led the defendant to believe that the agent was using a smartphone, at which point he ended the conversation.

If it all sounds complicated, that’s because it is.  The possession and distribution of online pornography is becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of technology and scope.  These cases can include the use of password protection, encryption, file servers and/or peer-to-peer networks, software designed to eliminate evidence, remote storage, partitioned hard drives, and the like.  These cases are further complicated by the fact that pornography has gone global, and frequently involves the use of mobile devices, apps, and social media sites including What’s App, Kik Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat.  Finally, cases can involve terabytes of data.  (One terabyte equals about 1,000 gigabytes, and can hold approximately 3.6 million images or 300 hours of video.) Continue reading

Arnett Blake, his girlfriend Cindy Edwards, and his former girlfriend Terri Hannah, all attended a party in Vineland, New Jersey.  At some point, Edwards encountered Hannah in the bathroom.  While there, Hannah allegedly made rude remarks about Edwards.  Hannah then left the bathroom and told Blake that she should “F___ [his] girlfriend up”.  Later, when Edwards and Blake tried to leave the party, Hannah approached Blake with a closed fist.  Blake pushed her away, and security detained him.  Edwards was then going to say something, but saw Hannah holding a high-heeled shoe.  Hannah hit Edwards in the face with the shoe.  Blake saw Hannah hit Edwards.  When Hannah was escorted out, Edwards saw she was not wearing shoes.  Hannah and Edwards later exchanged communications on Twitter which included a Tweet from Hannah saying, among other things, “shoe to ya face bitch.”

Hannah was charged with simple assault and proceeded to trial in municipal court.  There, she testified that she approached Blake at the party because she heard rumors that she planned to hurt Edwards, and she wanted to be sure that Blake understood that this was untrue.  She also testified that she was escorted from the party when she started yelling, that she did not see Edwards that night, and that she never hit anyone with a shoe.  This testimony was somewhat supported by that of a security guard who removed Hannah from the party and instructed her to not return, but also did not see her hit anyone with a shoe.

The municipal judge found Hannah guilty and, after a trial de novo, a Superior Court judge did the same.  Hannah then appealed her conviction to the Appellate Division. Continue reading

Earlier this week, I was in the Chancery Division, Family Part for a hearing on one of my juvenile delinquency matters.  While waiting to be called, I listened to the colloquy in the cases being heard before mine.  Virtually every case included some discussion involving texting or social media.  In the matter that was heard just before mine, the juvenile’s attorney asked the court to release her client – a recently arrested middle school student – on electronic monitoring.  The application was denied because just prior to arrest, the juvenile posted a photograph of himself holding a handgun on social media.  The prosecutor’s office checked virtually all of the popular social media outlets just before the hearing to see if the juvenile came up in any context, discovered the photograph and, of course, brought it to the court’s attention.

One of the issues in my juvenile case concerned certain text messages discovered on my client’s cell phone.  When the police arrested my client, they coaxed him into executing a consent-to-search form for his cell phone.  Upon searching the phone, they discovered text messages that, according to the state, implicated my client in the underlying offense.

There is a disturbing pattern here.  In the first case, the prosecutor’s office simply knew to check all of the popular social media outlets prior to going to court.  It seems that this has become part of their standard procedure in preparing for juvenile proceedings.  In my case, the police guessed – correctly – that there was a very high likelihood that my client’s cell phone would contain damaging text messages.  Continue reading

Prior articles on this blog have discussed our increasing dependency on our electronic devices.  Many members of my generation are still getting somewhat used to smart phones, I-pads, and the like.  However, for our children who have grown up with them, using these devices is perfectly natural and an ordinary part of life.  These things are all second-nature to them.  The younger generation will never understand our take on these devices because they did not grow up in a time when a Princess slim-line rotary telephone (remember those?) was cutting-edge technology.

While they seem to be thoroughly in tune with the latest technological rages and crazes, our kids do not necessarily appreciate the darker side of modern technology which, in addition to all kinds of devices, includes a bewildering array of apps and social media products and services.  Last week, an 18-year-old Ohio woman learned the hard way that misuse of this technology can have dire consequences.

Marina Alexeevna Lonina (age 18) and an acquaintance identified as Raymond Boyd Gates (age 29) have been charged in connection with the rape of one of Lonina’s classmates.  Lonina and the victim, who was 17 at the time of the incident, attended the same high school outside Columbus.  Lonina, Gates, and the victim were socializing at a Columbus residence when, at some point, Gates allegedly forced the victim to have sex with him.  Lonina “Periscoped” (live-streamed in real time) the rape.  One of Lonina’s friends, who was located in another State, viewed the live-stream of the rape and contacted law enforcement.  During the evening preceding the sexual assault, Lonina had also photographed the victim in the nude.  A Franklin County grand jury indicted Lonina and Gates for kidnapping, rape, sexual battery, and pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor.  Lonina was also charged with illegal use of a minor in nude material or performance, which related to photographing the victim the night preceding the rape.  These latter two charges appear to be variations of distributing child pornography.  Each defendant now faces over 40 years in prison. Continue reading

A US Magistrate Judge in California ruled recently that technology giant Apple could be required to create specialized software to help federal investigators bypass the security protocols on the encrypted Iphone 5S used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters.  This ruling conflicts with the ruling of a US Magistrate Judge in Brooklyn, who found that he could not order Apple to take steps to bypass the security features of an Iphone seized during an earlier drug investigation.

The media coverage of the more recent San Bernardino case has been far more extensive because it involves the December 2, 2015 mass-shooting committed by a married couple who were radicalized by ISIS.  The facts and events giving rise to the older Brooklyn case are far more ordinary.   But for the Iphone issue, that matter arises from just another relatively routine federal narcotics investigation – one of who-knows-how-many that play out in federal courts across the country every single day.

But a review of the ordinary drug case reveals far more about the development of the cell phone security issue that is at the heart of this debate.  The drug case involves an alleged methamphetamine dealer named Jun Feng, who’s phone was seized during the 2014 search of his Queens, New York residence.  Investigators sought to access his phone to obtain information that is fairly routine in drug cases, such as contact lists.  According to prosecutors in that case, Apple had assisted federal agents in extracting information from Iphones tied to criminal investigations approximately 70 times in seven years.  To law enforcement’s surprise, Apple suddenly changed its position as to such issues in Feng’s case.  Feng entered a guilty plea last October, but attorneys for both Apple and the Government continued to press the Court for a ruling and the Court ruled against the Government. Continue reading

The latest decision from the NJ Appellate Division involving sex offenders, State v. F.W., consists largely of a rather complex discussion concerning the interrelationship of Community Supervision for Life (“CSL”), Parole Supervision for Life (“PSL”), The Sex Offender Monitoring Act (“SOMA”), and the Ex Post Facto clauses of the Federal and New Jersey State Constitutions.  That part of the decision is for attorneys and academics.  However, the decision is noteworthy because it reviews significant elements of the regimen used to supervise sex offenders living in the State.  Offenders subject to CSL or PSL and related requirements such as GPS monitoring need to understand the array of rules and restrictions governing their movements in the community, and their rights if they are accused of a violation.

Sex offenders in New Jersey, like most States, are subject to a bewildering array of regulations.  Sex offender supervision in New Jersey began with CSL, which was enacted in 1994 as part of Megan’s Law.  The Legislature enacted the current supervision law, PSL, in 2003.  The number of defendants sentenced under CSL is dropping with the passage of time, but there are still many CSL offenders in the parole supervision system.  F.W. was sentenced under CSL.

The decision reminds us that CSL and PSL differ in several significant ways.  A violation of CSL is a crime and must be handled as any criminal case.  Thus, the matter is heard by a Superior Court judge, and the defendant is represented by competent defense counsel and has all of the procedural protections typically afforded a criminal defendant.  In sharp contrast, PSL offenders who violate the terms and conditions of their supervision can have their matters prosecuted as a criminal case involving a fourth degree charge or, alternatively, have their matters disposed of as parole violations.  If the latter course is adopted, the matter will be heard by the Parole Board.  The offender will have a relatively cursory administrative hearing before the Board that lacks all of the procedural protections available in a regular criminal case.  As to punishment, the Board can revoke parole and return the offender to prison.  Additionally, a CSL defendant adjudicated guilty of a violation and sentenced to a prison term can ultimately be released on parole.  PSL defendants who are imprisoned as a result of violations (even if the violation stems from an offense identical to that committed by a CSL defendant) may not be released on parole.   Thus, with respect to violations, a PSL offender will have fewer procedural protections than a CSL offender, but could face the same or even greater punishment. Continue reading

The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of Georgia recently announced three indictments charging several defendants with, among other things, computer hacking, theft and fraud.  [US v. Shalon, No. 15-cr-00333 (S.D.N.Y.); US v. Murgio, No. 15-cr-00769 (S.D.N.Y.); and US v. Shalon, No. 15-cr-00393 (N.D.Ga.)]  More specifically, the grand juries hearing these cases charged the defendants with computer hacking, securities and wire fraud, identity theft, illegal internet gambling, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and operating an unlicensed money transmitter.  These cases are noteworthy not only because of the sheer magnitude of the enterprise described by federal prosecutors, but also because of the manner in which they highlight the increasingly aggressive posture that the Justice Department continues to take toward cybercrime.

According to the US Attorney, the defendants hacked into the computer systems of several large financial services companies and financial news publishers.  Federal prosecutors did not identify the companies involved, but other news sources identified at least some of them as JPMorgan Chase, ETrade, Scottrade, TDAmeritrade, Fidelity Investments, and Dow Jones.  The defendants allegedly stole personal information for more than 100 million people and used it to, among other things, market securities in a deceptive manner by arranging to have prospective purchasers cold-called.

The defendants’ other activities allegedly included operating illegal online casinos, payment processing for criminals, operating an illegal bitcoin exchange, and laundering money through up to 75 shell companies and accounts around the world.  In the course of doing so, the defendants purportedly procured and used over 200 false identification documents which included over 30 false passports issued by almost 20 different countries, as well as servers located in Egypt, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Brazil and other countries.  The US Attorney believes the defendants generated hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal proceeds.  Many of the charged offenses carry federal prison terms of 20 years. Continue reading

A federal statute (18 U.S.C. Sec. 875(c)) makes it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce communications containing threats to injure someone.  Anthony Elonis, who was an active Facebook user, placed posts on his Facebook page that purportedly threatened patrons and employees of the park where he worked, his ex-wife, police officers, and school-age children.  His online activities were eventually brought to the attention of the FBI.  An agent created a Facebook account to just to monitor Elonis’ online activities.  The agent later visited his home, after which Elonis posted material on his page threatening her.  A grand jury charged Elonis with five counts of violating the above-referenced statute.  He went to trial and lost, was sentenced to a custodial term of almost four years with three years of supervised release, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

At this point, some legal background is unfortunately necessary.  Every crime consists broadly of two parts – a physical act or acts and a particular mental state.  The act or acts have to be accomplished with the required mental state in order to constitute a crime.  Some criminal statutes will say specifically which mental state is required in order to make out that particular offense (e.g., purposely, knowingly, recklessly, intentionally).  But not every criminal statute defines the required mental state.  The statute that Elonis violated did not include a particular mental state, and the question before the Court was which mental state was required to support the conviction and whether or not Elonis’ jury was properly instructed on this issue.  The Court ultimately found that the jury instruction was defective, reversed the Third Circuit’s decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The Court’s decision contains a terrific analysis of the interplay between mental states and potentially criminal conduct, and how to ascribe a particular mental state to a set of potentially criminal acts when the statute in question is silent on this issue.  All of that will certainly be of great interest to lawyers and judges but, given the prominent role social networking sites play in our daily lives, what does this case mean for the average user of these electronic media? Continue reading

The United States Supreme Court decided Grady v. North Carolina on March 30, 2015.  After completing his prison term for sex offenses, the State determined that Grady was a recidivist sex offender, and wanted to place him on satellite-based monitoring.  Grady argued that the monitoring program, which required him to wear a monitoring device at all times, violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Grady’s argument was based on U.S. v. Jones, where the Supreme Court held that installing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  The State courts rejected Grady’s argument, finding that the monitoring program at issues was not a Fourth Amendment search.  This conclusion was based, apparently in large part, upon the view that the proceeding giving rise to the monitoring was civil in nature, whereas Jones was a criminal case, which entailed different (higher) legal standards.

The Supreme Court rejected the reasoning of the State courts.  First, the monitoring program was a “search” because it enabled the State to “physically intrude on a constitutionally protected area … [A] State conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”  The fact that the monitoring program was civil in nature was rendered meaningless by settled law establishing “that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations [] and the government’s purpose in collecting information does not control whether the method of collection constitutes a search.”

Ultimately, however, the Court observed that the Fourth Amendment protects only against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Thus, it remanded the matter to the North Carolina courts to determine whether the monitoring program was reasonable when viewed as a search. Continue reading