State v. McGraw


Defendant charged with nine counts of theft for “… knowingly exerting unauthorized control over the property of the City … :the use of computers and computer services with intent to deprive the City of Indianapolis.”  The city leased computers, but was not charged based on usage.  Defendant used his private computer to sell products and was reprimanded several times for doing this on office time.  Defendant was fired, but his usage of the computer was never cited as a reason.  After being fired, defendant requested another employee erase his files that were used for his business.  Instead, the employee turned the files to his former supervisor.  The supervisor then instigated criminal charges.


Convicted at trial by jury.  Trial court then granted his renewed motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of evidence.  Appellate court reversed and reinstated verdicts.


Whether unauthorized use of a computer constitutes “property,” such that is can be the subject of theft.

Relevant Statute

“A person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over property of another person with intent to deprive the other of any part of its value or use, commits theft…”


No.  The harm which the statute seeks to prevent is deprivation of one from the use of his property.  In this case, the use harmed nobody; and nobody was deprived of their own use.  The prosecution focused on the Defendant’s use of the property, so as to generate his own external income.  They argue that the information generated by use is property.  However, the essential element is deprivation of property is missing.  “Defendant’s unauthorized use cost the City nothing and did not interfere with its use by others.”  Defendant’s use of the property is more comparable to the storage of his own books on his employer’s bookshelf or the use of its telephone for personal phone calls – none of which are criminal.


The city owned the computer system, including defendant’s computer.  “Time and use are the very core of the value of a computer system.”  The time and use of the computer are property of the city.  Moreover, converting that use into printouts is conversion for his own use.  This deprives the city of “use of computers and computer services.”

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