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Hancock v. Decker

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Citation Edit

Hancock v. Decker, 379 F.2d 552 (5th Cir. 1967) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Appellant, an employee of Texas Instruments Automatic Computer Corporation, photocopied fifty-nine computer programs belonging to his employer and attempted to sell them for $5 million. No original documents were removed from the employer’s premises and plaintiff argued at the most he stole $35 worth of paper.

Appellant contended that he was unlawfully convicted of felony theft because the corporeal personal property he was accused of taking did not have a value in excess of $50 (as required by the statute) and petitioned for habeas corpus. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied the petition and the appellant appealed.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

Article 1418 of the Vernon’s Ann. Texas Penal Code defines property, for the purpose of theft sections, as including "all writings of every description, provided such property possesses any ascertainable value."

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that computer programs are included and come within the meaning of the provisions of the statute defining the offense of theft. The computer program had a market value in excess of $50 each.[1] The statute as construed by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to include computer programs within the definition of "property” subject to theft was neither so unreasonable nor so arbitrary as to be violative of due process.

Federal courts have duty to accept state judicial construction of a state statute. In the absence of infringement of federal constitutional rights, a federal court is bound by the interpretation made by state courts of the criminal statutes of that state.

The appeal court held that there was ample evidence that the appellant committed the offense for which he was indicted and the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

References Edit

  1. Hancock v. State, 402 S.W.2d 906 (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 1966).

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