Defendant, Stewart worked for a union admin and was hired to obtain secret information related to 600 pay rolled employees for a hotel with whom the union was negotiating. The union wanted the list in order to solicit the pay rolled employees to unionize. Defendant approached a hotel employee and sought to obtain the list and was later charged with theft.
Defendant was found not guilty at trial court level, but convicted at appeal level with the verdict reversed.
Can private “information” be considered an item subject to theft?
No. Appellate decision reversed.
Information cannot constitute a stolen item. The court held that a stolen item must have a property right attached to it and be capable of being taken “or converted in a manner that deprives the victim.” In terms of public policy, private information protection does not outweigh inherent issues associated with future judges determining whether information was in fact stolen. There are issues related to the informational ownership, whether the information is unique to the owner, etc. Public policy favors, therefore, that the crime of theft be limited to items which have property rights attached and can be converted or taken.