Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Coca-Cola Trade Secrets Case

In the case of United States v. Williams, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions of two individuals who had received a 96 month and 60 month sentence for a violation of 18 U.S.C. s 1832, the theft of trade secret statute.  The defendants in this case were accused of trying to sell trade secrets of Coca-Cola to Pepsi.  Pepsi notified Coca-Cola of the attempt to sell them trade secrets and Coca-Cola then brought in the FBI, who used an undercover agent to secure the evidence obtained in this case

The court rejected the appellants arguments of a claimed Sixth Amendment violation in limiting cross-examination, limiting the closing argument, and using the judge's recent open heart surgery as an example when defining reasonable doubt.  The court also rejected a sentencing argument.  Williams, who received the 96 month sentence was given an above guidelines range, in sharp contrast to a sentence given to an individual who plead guilty and received a 24 month sentence. The 11th Circuit held that giving enormous weight to one factor - in this case the seriousness of the offense - does not mean the sentence is unreasonable. The court explicitly states in discussing the 60 month sentence given to one of the individuals here that because this individual "did not provide any assistance to the government, there was no 'unwarranted' disparity between his sentence" and the sentence of 24 months given to a cooperating party.

Although the court's opinion does not discuss this point, allowing for a significant sentence reduction for cooperation raises some concerns. For one, it can put the individual with little information to provide the government at an enormous disadvantage.  It also places the individual who is last to the talk with authorities at a loss, as all the information may have already been provided to the government. The credibility of those providing cooperation becomes more questionable when the rewards for giving the information reaches levels that offer a significant advantage to the cooperator. Perhaps the biggest concern is that providing such an enormous benefit to cooperators places those who decide to use their constitutional right to trial by jury, at a disadvantage.

See AJC - here


Addendum - Professor Doug Berman's Sentencing Law & Policy Blog here.


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Professor, the observation you make in the last paragraph may be a fair comment in other cases, but not this one. (I was the lead prosecutor on the case). Williams was given the same opportunity (in fact, the first opportunity) to cooperate, and she turned it down. Your good friend, Mr. Samuel, was the one that brought in his client first. Moreover, the 24 months was not awarded simply because of the 5K. Don raised several issues for which the court gave credit.

Posted by: BJP | May 14, 2008 6:32:41 AM

Interesting, I'm actually surprised that Pepsi didn't just take 'em up on the offer for coke secrets. Guess they figured it might be a trap.

Posted by: selif | Sep 8, 2008 11:18:41 AM

?The Coca-Cola soft drink was officially registered in the US Patent
and Trademark Office in 1893. Early advertising tried to stop people
from calling the product Coke because the company was afraid that the
new nickname would break down the distinctiveness of the mark and
contribute to making it generic. But people kept asking for Coke. In
1941, the Company started advertising as Coke and Coca- Cola. Finally,
in 1945 Coke was registered as a trademark.?

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