Brief Fact Summary. Appellants were former agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration convicted of the unauthorized sale of government property.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The sale of information, although an intangible, qualifies as a “thing of value” under the statute forbidding the sale of records or things of value of the United States.
Under plain error review, there must be (1) an error, (2) that is plain, (3) that affects the defendant's substantial rights, and (4) that seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is the statute only applicable to tangible property or documents and not the sale of information?
Held. No. Judgments are affirmed.
The applicable statute provides that “whoever without authority sells a record or thing of value of the United States or receives the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, or converted, shall be guilty of a crime.”
Like the district judge this Court is of the opinion that the phrase “thing of value” is generally construed to cover intangibles as well as tangibles. Although the content of a writing is intangible, it is nevertheless a thing of value.
In addition, the statute itself is not vague or overly broad. Appellants, being former employees of the DEA, should have known that the sale of confidential DEA information was prohibited. This case does not involve an exercise of the defendants’ First Amendment rights. The content of the statute legitimately regulates conduct, and any overbreadth that may exist can be cured on a case by case basis.
Discussion. The government has a property interest in certain private records which can be protected under a statutory scheme. This case is fairly obvious insofar, as the Court pointed out, the Appellants clearly were up to good and knew that their conduct was wrong.