Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, May 12, 2008

Williams: Coca Cola Trade Secrets Theft Judgment Affirmed

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 07-12526 (March 20, 2008), the Court affirmed convictions and sentences imposed on two defendants who attempted to sell Coca-Cola trade secrets to Pepsi, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1832(a)(1), (3) and (5).
The Court rejected the argument that defense cross-examination of a cooperating prosecution witness was unduly limited, pointing out that defense counsel had already presented the jury with substantial evidence to draw a fair inference about the witness’ credibility, and that the witness’ further testimony would not have given the jury a different impression.
The Court also rejected the argument that the trial court unduly limited the closing argument when it instructed the jury that defense counsel’s explanation of "reasonable doubt" was inaccurate, when he compared the concept to a patient’s desire for a second opinion when told of the need to have both legs amputated.
The Court also found no reversible error in the district court’s use of his own open-heart surgery example to describe "reasonable doubt," pointing out that, after counsel objected, the court gave a curative instruction.
Turning to the sentences, the Court upheld the 96-month and 60-month above-Guideline sentences as reasonable. Emphasizing the deference now owed district court in weighing the § 3553(a) factors, the Court cited, without criticism, the district court’s reference to the harm that Coca-Cola would have suffered had the defendants succeeded in selling its trade secrets to a rival, and the danger to the United States economy these crimes pose.