9th Circuit 1980 Case: “Information,” “State Secrets,” “Information Obtained for Political Advantage” All “Things of Value”

This case presents a very different context than Donald Trump, Jr., but the discussion is instructive:


II. Sufficiency of the Indictment

The indictment adequately charged Sheker with impersonating a federal officer to obtain a thing of value, within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 912.2 See U. S. v. Mitman, 459 F.2d 451 (9th Cir.), cert. den. 409 U.S. 863, 93 S.Ct. 154, 34 L.Ed.2d 111 (1972). We do not embrace the government’s sweeping position that 18 U.S.C. 912 extends to anything that has value to the defendant. Such a broad reading of “value” negates any limitation the word could imply. By the same token, we cannot accept Sheker’s suggestion that 18 U.S.C. 912 covers only things having commercial value. Information can be a thing of value. Whaley v. U. S., 324 F.2d 356 (9th Cir. 1963). In normal English usage commercial worth is not the exclusive measure of value. For instance, state secrets might trade hands without cash consideration. Information obtained for political advantage might have value apart from its worth in dollars. In each case the information sought would have value to others, in addition to the seeker. Such is the case here. Stokes would see value in keeping his whereabouts unknown to Sheker. The criminal justice system, concerned with the safety of witnesses, has a similar interest. Because the information sought had value in these broader senses, we hold the indictment sufficient.

In view of this conclusion, we also hold that the challenged language in the indictment (“concerning the location of a witness against him”) was not prejudicial surplusage. The quoted words were properly included to explain why the information sought was valuable. See generally, U. S. v. Root, 366 F.2d 377, 381 (9th Cir.), cert. den. 386 U.S. 912, 87 S.Ct. 861, 17 L.Ed.2d 784 (1966).

The language of the statute is not sufficiently ambiguous to call into play the rule of lenity. As the Supreme Court said in Bell v. U. S., 349 U.S. 81, 83, 75 S.Ct. 620, 622, 99 L.Ed. 905 (1955):

[L]anguage used in criminal statutes should not be read with the saving grace of common sense with which other enactments, not cast in technical language, are to be read.

We find the statute unambiguous.

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