Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The defendant, during his time as a police sergeant in Georgia, used his patrol car computer to run a license plate search in the law enforcement database in exchange for money. The defendant’s conduct was in violation of his department’s policy, which authorized access to database information only for law enforcement purposes. The federal government charged the defendant with a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for “exceeding authorized access.” The defendant was convicted in district court, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The CFAA subjects to criminal liability anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” 18 U. S. C. § 1030(a)(2). The term “exceeds authorized access” is defined to mean “to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.” § 1030(e)(6).

The Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Barrett, did not dispute that the phrase “exceeds authorized access” readily encompasses the defendant’s conduct, but concluded that the defendant did not exceed his authorized access as the CFAA defines that phrase. The Court resolved that the phrase “is not entitled so to obtain” plainly refers to information that a person is not entitled to obtain, specifically by using a computer that he is authorized to access. The Court also noted that a broad interpretation of the statute would criminalize a wide array of commonplace computer activity.

The Court held that the “exceeds authorized access” clause covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer to which their computer access does not extend, but does not cover those who have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them. Because the defendant had authorization to use the system to retrieve license plate information, he did not exceed authorized access within the meaning of the CFAA, even though he obtained the information for an improper purpose.

Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, dissented, declining to give the statute any limiting function and choosing to rely on the plain meaning of the phrase.

The trial court did not commit plain error in its jury instructions on second-degree trespass. The defendant was indicted for remaining on the premises after having been notified not to remain there by officer Wall, “a person in charge of the premises.” The trial court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant guilty if she was told not to remain on the premises “by a person in charge of the premises, a lawful occupant or another authorized person.” The additional words “a lawful occupant, or another authorized person” “do not constitute other disjunctive theories included in the jury instructions.” The court explained: “Examining the statute’s language, it is apparent the list of persons is merely a disjunctive list of descriptors, not additional theories.”

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of second-degree trespass. On appeal the defendant argued that she had implied consent to be on the premises of a DMV office. After the defendant raised her voice and began swearing at a DMV employee, an officer told the defendant to leave, thereby revoking her implied consent to remain.

The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for domestic criminal trespass. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the owner, his former girlfriend, never forbade him from entering her residence. The girlfriend ended her relationship with the defendant and ordered him to leave her residence. She affirmed that directive by locking the door and activating her alarm system upon discovering the defendant in her driveway. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that because he had permission to enter a portion of the premises, he had permission to enter the residence itself. The girlfriend granted the defendant limited permission to enter the garage to collect his belongings, but this consent did not extend to the inside of the residence. Thus, the fact that the defendant initially entered a portion of the premises with the owner’s consent did not render him incapable of later trespassing upon a separate part of the premises where his presence was forbidden. Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the girlfriend was not physically present when he entered the interior of her home, the statute’s requirement that the premises be “occupied” at the time of the trespass was not satisfied. The court held that this offense does not require the victim to be physically present at the time of the trespass. 

First-degree trespass is a lesser included offense of felony breaking or entering.

A male juvenile’s entry into a school’s female locker room with a door marked “Girl’s Locker Room” was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile’s adjudication of second-degree trespass. The sign was reasonably likely to give the juvenile notice that he was not authorized to go into the locker room. 

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