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United States v. Valle

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

May 12, 2015, Argued; December 3, 2015, Decided

No. 14-2710-cr and No. 14-4396-cr


 [*511]  BARRINGTON D. PARKER, Circuit Judge:

This is a case about the line between fantasy and criminal intent. ] Although it is increasingly challenging to identify that line in the Internet age, it still exists and it must be rationally discernible in order to ensure that "a person's inclinations and fantasies are his own and beyond the reach of the government." Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 551-52, 112 S. Ct. 1535, 118 L. Ed. 2d 174 (1992). We are loath to give the government the power to punish us for our thoughts and not our actions. Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 565, 89 S. Ct. 1243, 22 L. Ed. 2d 542 (1969). That includes the power to criminalize an individual's expression of sexual fantasies, no matter how perverse or disturbing. Fantasizing about committing a crime, even a crime of violence against a real person whom you know, is not a crime.

This does [**4]  not mean that fantasies are harmless. To the contrary, fantasies of violence against women are both a symptom of and a contributor to a culture of exploitation, a massive social harm that demeans women. Yet we must not forget that in a free and functioning society, not every harm is meant to be addressed with the federal criminal law. Because "[t]he link between fantasy and intent is too tenuous for fantasy [alone] to be probative," United States v. Curtin, 489 F.3d 935, 961 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (Kleinfeld, J., concurring), and because the remaining evidence is insufficient to prove the existence of an illegal agreement or Valle's specific intent to kidnap anyone, we affirm the district court's judgment of acquittal on the single count of conspiracy to kidnap.

In an issue of first impression that has sharply divided our sister circuits, we must also decide the meaning of "exceeds authorized access" in section 1030(a) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), which imposes both criminal and civil liability. 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Specifically, we must determine whether an individual "exceeds authorized access" to a computer when, with an improper purpose, he accesses a computer to obtain or alter information that he is otherwise authorized to access, or if he "exceeds authorized [**5]  access" only when he obtains or alters information that he does not have authorization to access for any purpose which is located on a computer that he is otherwise authorized to access. Because we conclude that the text, statutory history, and [*512]  purpose of the CFAA permit both interpretations, we are required to apply the rule of lenity and adopt the latter construction. We therefore reverse the judgment of conviction as to the CFAA count.

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807 F.3d 508 *; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 21028 **; 40 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1735

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellant/Appellee, v. GILBERTO VALLE, Defendant-Appellee/Defendant-Appellant.

Subsequent History: As Amended December 4, 2015.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. No. 12-cr-847 (PGG) — Paul G. Gardephe, Judge.

United States v. Valle, 301 F.R.D. 53, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89650 (S.D.N.Y., 2014)

Disposition: Appeals from judgments of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Paul G. Gardephe, Judge). The jury convicted Gilberto Valle of one count of conspiracy to kidnap and one count of improperly accessing a computer in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"). 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Valle moved for a judgment of acquittal, or, in the alternative, for a new trial, on both counts. The district court granted Valle's motion as to the conspiracy count, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction, and denied the motion as to the CFAA count, concluding that Valle's conduct was covered by the statute.

The Government appeals from the district court's judgment of acquittal on the conspiracy count, and Valle separately appeals from the judgment of conviction on the CFAA count. Because we agree that there was insufficient evidence as to the existence of a genuine agreement to kidnap and of Valle's specific intent to commit a kidnapping, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment of acquittal on the conspiracy count. Because [**2]  we find that the district court's construction of the CFAA violates the rule of lenity, we REVERSE the judgment of conviction on the CFAA count.


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Criminal Law & Procedure, Acts & Mental States, Mens Rea, Specific Intent, Appeals, Standards of Review, Deferential Review, Trials, Motions for Acquittal, Deferential Review, Credibility & Demeanor Determinations, Substantial Evidence, Verdicts, De Novo Review, Motions to Acquit & Dismiss, Inchoate Crimes, Conspiracy, Elements, Burdens of Proof, Prosecution, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Inferences, Criminal Offenses, Fraud, Computer Fraud, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Rule of Lenity, Computer Fraud, Interpretation