Unlawful Access to Stored Communications – Texas Penal Code §16.04

The digital age has given us new ways to store and access vast amounts of information, and much of that information should be kept private. To prevent unauthorized access of private information and the potential for exploitation of information, Texas lawmakers enacted a statute prohibiting access to stored communications. This law is incorporated into the Texas Penal Code in section 16.04.

Because so many of us access information electronically every day, it can be easier to be accused of violating this statute than people realize. A violation can be treated as a felony if a court finds the violation was committed to provide a benefit or attempt to harm someone, so it is important to take charges seriously.

If you have been accused of accessing information without authorization or of exceeding your authority to access stored electronic communications, the experienced attorneys at Barbieri Law Firm are ready to defend you against the charges. We understand the defense strategies that prove to be most effective in these situations and we work tenaciously to reach a positive outcome in your case, protecting your rights and your future.

How is This Crime Defined in Texas?

This crime is included with “inchoate offenses” in the Texas Penal Code. Inchoate crimes make it unlawful to take steps toward committing another crime, such as attempting to commit a murder or conspiring to commit a bank robbery. For this particular offense, it is unauthorized access to information that constitutes an offense. There is no need to prove that the information was used illegally or harmfully.

You can be convicted of unlawful access to stored communications under Texas Penal Code §16.04 if you:

  • Intentionally obtain unauthorized access to a facility through which electronic or wire communications are provided, or
  • Intentionally exceed the authority you’ve been given to access a facility through which electronic or wire communications are provided

An example would be illegally gaining access to someone’s cellular location data showing the location of the phone over time. The prosecution must prove that you gained access intentionally, so evidence to indicate that actions were not intentional could prove crucial to your defense.

Potential Ramifications

Texas places high importance on the sanctity of an individual’s personal electronic space. In our rapidly evolving digital age, accessing someone’s private communications without authorization is considered an invasion of privacy and it has the potential to disrupt the foundation of trust within personal and professional networks.

If you are convicted of violating Texas Penal Code §16.04, the offense can be penalized as either a Class A misdemeanor or a state jail felony. The basic crime of unlawfully accessing stored communications is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. If the prosecution can persuade the court that you accessed communications to enrich yourself or to harm someone else, then the offense becomes a felony. The potential term of incarceration increases to two years, and the maximum fine can be as high as $10,000.

In addition, a conviction comes with consequences that can cause problems for years to come. A conviction creates a criminal record visible to potential employers, lenders, and others. You can even be denied the opportunity to participate in volunteer activities. However, a knowledgeable defense attorney can defend you against the charges and work to minimize any negative consequences.

Defense Strategies for this Offense

In the intricate web of digital communication, the lines can sometimes blur. Accusations may stem from unintentional access, misinterpretations, or even outright false allegations. Options for fighting the charges include:

  • Demonstrating lack of intent
  • Showing that the provider of the service authorized access
  • Showing that the user of the service authorized access
  • Showing that the intended recipient authorized access
  • Asserting that enforcement efforts included procedural errors

Our experienced team can help locate and preserve evidence to fight the charges and present that evidence in a persuasive manner to help you reach the best outcome.

Barbieri Law Can Help if You’re Facing Charges of Unlawful Access in Texas

Criminal law can be complex, particularly when it comes to inchoate offenses and crimes in the digital realm. You need a team of defense advocates with the skills and knowledge to protect your rights and fight for your future. Barbieri Law is ready to help.

Our dedicated defense attorneys know the strategies that are most effective when facing a variety of charges under Texas law, including unlawful access to stored communications. Call us today at 972-424-1902 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and get started on your defense.