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Hammer O'Justice
Hammer O'Justice, Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Almost 12 years of legal experience
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.


I feel compelled to give you the full story so that I know where I stand legally.

On or about the last of July or the beginning of August 2012 this woman I was involved

with in PA. I live in Maryland, came to me to admit she had stayed up all night

reading my emails from the past.... approx. 6 hours reading personal messages, financial records etc,

that she had access to, saying I left my email window open on her computer in her home.

I did not remember accessing my email at her home but was more concerned about the

info she had read etc. She offered to give me her password XXXXX her 2 email accts and facebook .

The next day I did just that only to realize she had deleted everything of any consequence.

I asked her about this, and she said she always deleted everything. Only to find out when

questioning her a month or so later, she admitted telling her daughter about this and is was then

she deleted all her emails, but saying there was nothing there to read. I am thinking , right...


She did however leave one personal email behind, that I copied and pasted for my records for

future reference if needed. The next few months she changed dramatically, with constant

criticism, many initiated arguments by her, and finally the first of Jan. we ended the relationship.

And nasty emails on both sides flew back and forth. When at that time I brought this email

hacking thing up again, which she said she did nothing wrong. I then proceeded out of anger

sent an email to her 2 daughters... the left behind email that was quite revealing but included

only the text of the email but no names or email addresses. After sending that email I

immediately apologized to both daughters in less than a few hours because it was wrong to do.


After that we did not talk for a month and slowly she very gradually made contact , within a

few days she wanted to meet and talk, which surprised me, and I was very suspicious, and had

my radar up. After 10 days , seeing her 4 times, things about her had changed. We then

decided to end the relationship, however at the very end , I brought up this email situation

again, and suddenly she got extremely angry, cursing like a sailor, something she had never

done before.


I then started to realize her return was to smooth things over probably worrying about this

email issue, My assumption, not factual. A few nasty emails followed back and forth, then

suddenly I rec'd an email from her saying the following. "it over, do not contact me again"...

I was assuming at that time she had talked to an attorney. That happened on 3/19/2013..have

not heard anything since.


That is the basic story, now I need to know where I stand legally, and what , if anything can

be done.




Well, first of all, criminally, the unlawful computer crime carries a statute of limitations of 2 years, so depending on when she accessed your email a criminal prosecution must be commenced within that time period or it cannot be pursued. If she did illegally access your email it is certainly a crime:

However, you still have to overcome the burden, both civilly and criminally (although the latter is the prosecution's burden, not yours personally) of proving that she did in fact illegally access your email.

Based on your whole story, I would be concerned about the sort of action she might take in retribution if you proceed with a case against her. Some of your conduct, particularly with respect to the daughters, could be construed as criminal harassment. Your exchanges with her were obviously mutual, and hopefully you still have the paper trail to prove that if she tries to use your angry emails to prove harassment against her without showing the other side of the conversation, but it sounds like she is the type of person that might seek retribution. It is up to you to decide if you want to risk that for right now is a very difficult case for you without the proper evidence that you require.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

If I indeed left my email open, can she legally read my emails?


What you are saying, and I have been aware of what happened, is that she probably schemed and set me up?

The law does not define "access" but my interpretation would be this. If she read an open email on her computer, that would not qualify as accessing. But if she clicked on other emails that were not already open, that would qualify as unauthorized access under the statute.

I have no idea what her motivations were or whether she set you up. I'm just saying that in my experience, in a domestic situation like this where neither party's hands are entirely clean, once legal action starts and the other person uses other things that happened to get revenge on the other person, no one wins. It is completely your decision...I would just tread carefully since there are other issues and exchanges involved here that could make trouble for you.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

The emails she accessed were past sent messages, as she described from several different people. Spending 6 hours looking at my past sent messages is NOT looking at one of them, however I did not leave or open any of those past messages therefore that is not the issue, she had to access these past emails.

In addition, I have no idea what other info she accessed, and or copied.


In regards XXXXX XXXXX sending of copy to her daughter were during the period of the first week of Jan., 2013 , she then made contact on 1/28 and then wanting to meet and talk and met 3 others times after. Does that negate the previous action I made regarding the email to the daughters?

Right. That is why I think, if it can be proven, that the statute was violated.

The fact that she met with you doesn't negate any correspondence that was sent to her children. It may negate an argument on behalf of herself that your correspondence with her was made without a legitimate purpose, but her actions are not imputed to her daughters. The fact that you may have had legitimate and mutual correspondence with her doesn't mean you can send what could be considered harassing correspondence to her kids. They are separate entities.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I understand completely. What is the penalty for criminal harassment? What is the typical penalty for "invasion of privacy" in the email situation?

It is obvious that everything that happened was due to her originally accessing my email illegally.


I believe this is not an usual situation, what usually happens in this scenario?

There are different types of harassment charges. The main ones are summary harassment, which is a summary offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine and harassment that is a third degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $2500. Jail time is highly unlikely because it was so minor, and there is a question about whether they could even prove it all. There has to be a course of conduct, and two emails might meet this definition or it might not.

Invasion of privacy is not a criminal offense. The offense is hacking, which is a third degree felony punishable by up to 7 years in jail and/or a fine up to $25,000.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Which is this? Hacking or "invasion of privacy" I do not know the law.

We live in 2 different states, how does that work legally?

Do I have any legal options that will not make it any worse that what it appears that is may be?

It appears if I do nothing , she will hope this goes away,
wrong ?


What in "theory" would be the solution in this situation?

Several emails I sent her at the end of Feb. and first of March , I ask for a simple apology, but have never rec'd an apology ever even in the beginning when this first happened.


Invasion of privacy is not a crime, hacking is. The penalty I listed for you is for hacking. She would have to be prosecuted/sued where the hacking took place in order for the court to have jurisdiction.

There's no way to predict an outcome in this scenario because there are a lot of variables...whether you or prosecutor/police can obtain the evidence needed to prove hacking or a civil lawsuit, whether she tries to retaliate by using your emails to procure charges of her own, etc. I cannot honestly predict what is going on in this woman's mind and what her possible motives are, unfortunately.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

My question is which is this ? If my email window left open, is this hacking?

I answered that already. I posted the link to the statute that defines hacking and I said in my opinion it does constitute hacking because if she did more than just read what was on the screen and clicked to access additional emails, it would qualify as hacking.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your information, it has been extremely helpful and much appreciated. I now can make the best decision possible I believe in doing the right thing hopefully.

No problem. Please leave positive feedback so I get credit for my answer. Good luck.
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Given your thoughts etc, what is the worst that could happen to her if I sought email hacking charges against her. And on the other hand , what is the worst that could happen to me with regards XXXXX XXXXX other issues?

A harassment charge is not very serious and at worse you would likely get probation. With her, it could go either way. If she has no record, it is possible she could still just get probation, or a judge may impose some jail time and place her on probation for the rest because hacking is a more serious charge and is classified as a felony.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Have you in the past litigated a case involving email hacking? If so are you able in summary offer info of such case?
I have prosecuted hacking cases in the past but they have related to database hacking. Since the company was the victim in the cases, they were cooperative and I did not have to subpoena records, however.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

You were a prosecutor in Pa, correct? In the state of Pa. if I wanted to file a complaint on the mail hacking, what is the process, and what proof do I need to show probable cause? I have all the ip addresses from Microsoft except there were none during the time she accessed my email acct. 34 consecutive days missing? I was told by several attorneys I would have to sue her in order to get a subpoena to submit to Microsoft to acquire those ip addresses that would prove that she actually did access my email acct. I then would have to pay a large legal fee to do so.

No, but I am familiar with PA law.


There are three ways to instigate criminal charges. One is by filing a police report where the police investigate and file charges themselves. One is by going to the prosecutor's office to see if they will file charges based on the information you have. The third way is by filing a private criminal complaint in District Court for the county where the crime occurred. The court will have the forms you need to use. Because the crime you want to charge is a fairly major offense, the prosecutor's office will have to sign off on it for charges to be filed. They can approve it or deny it or hold it for investigation to see if they want to sign off on it in the future.


Basically you need evidence to show that it is more probable than not that she committed a crime. Unfortunately, the only real way to show that is through IP addresses in a case like this. There has to be some active case for you to get a subpoena, but as I've said, law enforcement can obtain investigation subpoenas without there being an active case.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

The only evidence I have is her telling me that did this deed. And the ip log showing during the time she said she accessed my email acct. shows clearly something was wrong with the missing ip addresses. This the reason attorneys have told me the authorities wouldn't investigate unless I had those actual ip addresses to show proof. It is like the "chicken and the egg" scenario.

Therefore, they said I would have to file a suit in order to be able to subpoena Microsoft.

That is why the only other suggestion I had for you, if you don't want to file suit and pay for the subpoena, is to try to get the police involved and investigate because they can obtain subpoenas. Aside from that, there is not much that can be done without actual proof to corroborate her confession.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I am 100% sure she did what she said, since she told me information about the emails she could only know by reading them. Therefore, by obtaining the ip addresses will show proof she did access them from her computer , the days , times and amount of time looking at the emails. As she stated she stayed up during the night for 6 plus hours reading them.

I understand that. But the issue is proof and as I've said there are limited ways for you to obtain the proof. So you have to either file the case and obtain the subpoena or get the police to do an investigation. I feel like we are going around in circles a bit. You know what has to be done and now you simply need to decide what if anything you want to do about it.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I understand, and appreciate your patience with me in this regard. I am an insurance appraiser / inspector and in my work detail is vital.


I have one last question, which will help me . I am sure she has attorney by now. She has been quiet (so to speak) in this situation what is her attorney probably telling her to do or not do at this point and time. I know you can not speak for another attorney, but why is she quiet?

Honestly, I don't know her so I don't know. If you broke up, she has no reason to contact you. Or maybe she is waiting to see what you will do before deciding her next move. I honestly do not know what her plans or motives are.
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I see you didn't actually answer my question what her attorney is probably telling her, but I can understand an attorney's ethics in this regard.


You have been extremely helpful with my problem, and gives more food for thought before considering all possible courses of action.


I did just add a tip for you. Thank you.

I got it and I appreciate it, thanks.


I would hazard a guess that an attorney would tell her something similar...that if she has unclean hands as well then going after you would likely just provoke some sort of retaliatory action. Of course, that depends on whether she has even gotten an attorney and if she has been honest with him about her actions as well.


Good luck...I'm sorry that you are in such an unfortunate situation and I hope you are able to come to some kind of resolution.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Just a curious question about you? What is your past experience in criminal law? What states have you practiced?

Why are you no longer practicing law? If in the future I have anyone that needs legal help, I will certainly recommend coming here to write to you. You have supplied me with more information than anyone else. Thanks for your honesty.

I was a prosecutor for approximately 7 years in the mid-Atlantic region. I still practice law, just in a different specialty. For privacy reasons I don't get more specific than that.

We thank you for your business and I'm glad I could help you out with your problem. If anything develops with your situation that you have questions about, feel free to come back and ask. Take care and good luck.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

If I decide to pursue this case in Civil court, can I still pursue it criminally after
the civil case is concluded?

Also, it seems attorneys do not want to take this case, saying there has been no
damage or can prove damage by reading the emails. Do I have to show damage
before showing cause in order to get a subpoena for Microsoft to provide the IP
addresses during the time in question? What would be (cause) enough for a judge
to issue a subpoena for Microsoft?

A civil case and a criminal case are not mutually exclusive and are not required to proceed in any particular order. However, if you proceed with a civil case and lose, the prosecutor's office will not likely pick it up as a criminal case because the burden in a civil case is far less than in criminal, and if you could not meet the lesser burden of a civil case, then a prosecutor will not attempt to prove it as a criminal case unless additional evidence is found.


You can only get a subpoena in an active case. To start a case, you have to submit a pleading that establishes every element of the claim, one of which is damages. You don't have to submit proof of damages but you at least have to aver in the pleading that there are damages in order for the complaint to be sufficient. All that is really necessary to obtain a subpoena is that it be seeking information relevant to the case. Once it is issued, the burden is on the party receiving the subpoena to argue that it is overly broad or unduly burdensome or requests information that is privileged.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

What constitutes damages in my particular case. Nothing has happened as of yet where they knowledge she gained was damaging except the amount time/money I have already spent on this process. I need to file a suit in order for Microsoft to provide the ip addresses from my email acct, that are missing , 34 days of none showing. The rest of the year there are ip addresses on the log I rec'd from them

It depends on what you are suing for. If, for example, you are suing for invasion of privacy, the damages are the fact that your private affairs were intruded on. Realistically, you might only recover a nominal amount since the intrusion thus far is limited to one person and you have not sustained further damages beyond her. So even if you prevail in court, you may not see a huge award. The time and money you spend pursuing the case is not usually recoverable. Pennsylvania follows the American Rule, which says that unless a law specifically allows you to recover costs and fees (some consumer protection laws contain provisions for this in cases of consumer fraud), you are stuck with your own expenses, win or lose.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
I believe once a suit commences she will probably want to settle rather than spending thousands of dollars in a defense. Especially when having to pay more if I win the suit.

What is typical legal fees including getting a subpoena to Microsoft? That in in itself to encourage her to settle and not let it get to court.
I can tell you now that a small claims case will not likely cost thousands of dollars to defend. The cases have limited, if any, discovery and the trials are extremely brief. She can also represent herself as you are without spending anything on legal fees. The burden of proving the case and the damages is on you as the plaintiff. She can show up by herself, not say a word, and if you don't prove your case she will win. Or if you do prove your case, but don't prove significant damages, then she again can stand there and do nothing while the judge gives you a nominal amount. If she does have a lawyer, it is likely they would discourage her from settling because at this point you don't have a case at all, nor a good argument for significant damages.

There are no typical legal fees. It varies from region to region and lawyer to lawyer. You don't even necessarily need a lawyer to file a subpoena. The clerk's office has forms to request one. Although you have to make sure you are addressing it and serving it on the proper person. And after you get the IP address you will have to file another subpoena on the service provider to link the IP number with an identity.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

It appears to me at this point a civil case then would be futile, and the only course of action is to file a complaint with the Prosecutor in the area in which she lives and take my chances on her retribution and be ready to take the consequences.

It is up to you. I am just telling you my viewpoint based on my experience. Frankly, I don't think you are going to get the satisfaction you seek regardless of the avenue you pursue but I would personally rather try to get experienced investigators to tackle my case and to procure the information first rather than to invest the legwork and money into doing it myself. As I have said before, if you do try proceed with the criminal case first and the prosecutor or police are able to get the information you need, you can use that to file a civil case later if you choose. There is still an issue of damages and the fact that you may only be nominally rewarded, however. The other upside to the criminal system is that the victim doesn't have to show damages. The only thing the prosecutor has to prove is that the law was broken. But again, this is only my opinion and only you can decide what you want to do.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I understand perfectly what you are saying. To avoid expense, time and effort my best course to file a complaint and let the marbles fall where they may (so to speak) knowing full well, I may also have to pay a price.

This is easily proved by the authorities, as I already know the truth as she admitted it. If they do charge her, will she automatically be convicted with proof? Will she probably receive a felony conviction knowing w/o a record she probably will get probation? at best....or can they charge her

with proof and not be convicted at all?

Someone who is charged is not automatically convicted. It is up to a judge or jury to decide if she is guilty after a trial unless she pleads guilty. Even with proof a person can be acquitted if it is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. She can put on a defense. So no, a charge does not ensure a conviction. Hacking is a felony if she is convicted. She may get probation as a first offender. It is up to the judge.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Proving she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is a absolute in this case. But if found guilty she receives a felony automatically? Even though she gets a sentence of probation?

With emails admitting guilt and the ip addresses to match her story is enough to show proof is it not? I do believe however knowing this person she will confess of what she did, then what?


I understand you can not predict an outcome, just trying to cover all the bases before making a decision on what to do that the solution.


There is no such thing as an absolute in court. Particularly if a jury is involved.

If she is convicted of hacking it is a felony regardless of what her sentence is. A prosecutor may offer her a plea deal yo a lesser charge but if it is hacking it is a felony. And before you ask, I have no idea what yhe lessrr charge would or could be or what kind of sentence she might get.

A confession with the IP corroboration should be enough to convict but as I said nothing is an absolute. I am not going to guess or speculate beyond saying that.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you

Sure...have a nice weekend.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I am at a point where I do not want get into trouble myself over this situation. But at the same time, all was caused and resulted by the original crime when this person hacked my email acct. In the last 2 months my health has become an issue with losing over 15 pounds, sleeping very little etc. I really, I guess don't have any more legal questions, I just don't know what the right thing to do is.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Because of the stress, loss of weight over this situation, I feel that I should just go to the Prosecutor and just tell the entire story and let justice take it's course, even though I will be liable for my own actions. Health wise etc., My entire life is consumed 24/7 in my thoughts about this situation and just need to do something. Do you understand this?

How do you suggest I do this, from your experience as a Prosecutor and how will it typically be received?


How do I go about doing this?

We are not allowed to give advice, only information, but in general a lawyer would never tell a person that it is ever a good idea to go to a prosecutor, unrepresented, and confess to something that may be considered a crime. If you file a civilian criminal complaint, the prosecutor's office will still get it and investigate it, but you are under no obligation to give them incriminating information about yourself. I fail to see what benefit you think would come of it.

Since you asked, frankly, no, I do not understand. If I were involved in the situation, I would be angry that someone read my email without permission, but if they hadn't used the personal information beyond that to steal my identity or to publicize my personal information, and I knew that I had done some regrettable things as well, and the relationship was over, I would call it a day. Because frankly, it would not be worth it to me to try to get someone in trouble at my own expense, both health-wise and in terms of potentially facing criminal charges. I don't know or understand what exactly you hope to get by bringing this into court. But that is just my opinion, since you asked.

I am leaving for the day so I will not be around to answer follow-up questions you may have today, FYI.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Hi again,

I have had something new that has come up with my unauthorized access to my email acct. There were 3 people that this lady mentioned to me of emails she read that were sent messages by me, but when an email sent from my acct, the original email from the sender is automatically attached.

I have recently talked to all 3 of these people, all of which are a little upset that this lady read their emails that were sent to me, and they wanted to know if that have any legal options, since they have illegally ready their emails to me, , especially when some of them were very sensitive information, concerning money, marriage, taxes info etc.


Your legal thoughts?

Unless she used the information for an illegal purpose, I cannot see them having any case against her. She only accessed your email account, so you are the only person who may have standing to have a case against her. The fact that their original emails were attached does not turn it into a situation where she hacked their accounts.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

One of the person's that she read their emails wants to turn her in to the authorities, can she do that? and sue in civil court. Does this person have a case or just wasting her money w/o damage being caused.

Report her for what? Sue her for what? I just told you she has not committed a crime ir done anything actionable against the others.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

They wanted to report the hacking of my acct. to the authorities, they can't do that, right? I can only do that, correct?

They have no personal knowledge of the incident other than what you have told them so it is extremely unlikely the police would take a report from them.