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Supreme Court will dive into row on proprietary fishing data

A software engineer is at the heart of one of three cases added to the arguments calendar. He says it was wrong to prosecute him outside his home state for trade secret theft.  

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review the conviction of a software engineer who got ahold of secret fishing coordinates that a Florida business was selling for $200 a pop. 

StrikeLines, based in Pensacola, Florida, uses sonar equipment to locate artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and sells that data to commercial and recreational fishermen. To prevent overfishing, these locations are generally kept private. 

Using a web development tool, software engineer Timothy Smith procured some 10,000 coordinates and customer sales data valued at hundreds of dollars. Smith wanted to share the data on social media so that fisherman could pinpoint the fishing locations that StrikeLines was selling. Prosecutors showed that he also attempted to extort more fishing coordinates from one of the owners of StrikeLines. 

The government went after Smith in Florida, as that is the home of StrikeLines, but Smith had been working out of his residence in Mobile, Alabama. In 2019, a Florida federal jury convicted Smith of the theft of trade secrets and online extortion of a local company. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. 

Earlier this year, however, the 11th Circuit handed Smith a partial reversal, tossing out his conviction for theft of trade secrets and ordering that Smith be resentenced for his extortion charge. Smith then turned to the high court, asking if remanding his case was the proper remedy. Now the Supreme Court will examine the thorny issue of geographic boundaries on data shared online. 

The case before the justices has split lower courts. 

“The decision below exacerbates an acknowledged circuit conflict by holding that when the government fails to meet its burden of proving venue at trial, it is free to subject a defendant to a new trial in a different venue,” Samir Deger-Sen, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, wrote in Smith's petition. “That holding erodes venue protections that are deeply rooted in this Nation’s history, and leaves the venue right dependent on the happenstance of where a defendant is tried.”  

Smith argues that the founders considered abuse of venue rights a grave concern, but that recent splits in the lower courts have resulted in different treatment of defendants based on where they are charged. 

“Today criminal defendants who suffer the same violation of this right receive markedly different remedies depending on which circuit they are tried in,” Deger-Sen wrote. “While some defendants will go free, others will be retried (perhaps multiple times) and punished — which is ultimately no remedy at all.”   

Per its custom, the high court did not issue any comment in taking up Smith's appeal. The Tuesday order list also awards a writ of certiorari to Adam Samia, an American who was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot in the Philippines. Samia thought he was leaving North Carolina in 2011 to work for a security company, Echelon Associates, in the Philippines. Echelon turned out to be a front company, however, for the international criminal cartel boss Paul LeRoux.

LeRoux ordered the murder of Catherine Lee, a real estate agent he thought had stolen money from him. Samia was convicted of being one of the two men who murdered Lee. According to the government, Samia and David Stillwell posed as real estate buyers and visited properties with Lee before they killed her. 

Even though the government couldn’t get witnesses who has allegedly seen the killers with Lee on the day of her murder to identify Samia, Stillwell made an out-of-court confession that Samia was the one who shot Lee. 

Samia maintains his innocence and claims Stillwell’s confession violated his rights. Stillwell’s confession was redacted at trial, but Samia claims that wasn’t enough. The justices agreed to examine if the out-of-court confession that incriminates a defendant based on the surrounding context violated Samia’s Sixth Amendment rights. 

The justices also agreed Tuesday to hear a case from workplace messenger Slack Technologies, examining pleading requirements under the Securities Act of 1933. 

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