KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Is an ordinary cell phone a computer?
Yes it is, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. If you use the cell phone to help transport a minor across state lines for illegal sex, a judge can sentence you to more prison time.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the ruling was the first from a federal appeals court that described a cell phone as a computer to support a harsher sentence.
The distinction had real consequences for Neil Scott Kramer, 41, of Violet, La. In April a federal judge in Springfield, Mo., sentenced him to 14 years in prison for meeting a 15-year-old girl at a convenience store in Cabool, Mo., and taking her to his recreational vehicle in Louisiana for several days.
For six months he had been communicating with the girl via text messages.
Using a computer in such a crime generally triggers a longer sentence under federal guidelines. The judge sentencing Kramer noted that without the enhancement he would have sentenced him to only 11 years and eight months.
Quoting Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak ("Everything has a computer in it nowadays."), Circuit Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote in the appeals ruling that the "exceedingly broad" legal language that defines "computer" easily takes in the basic cell phone that Kramer used to call and text his victim.
"If a device is 'an electronic ... or other high-speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic or storage functions,' it is a computer," Wollman wrote.