The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence of a former Coca-Cola Company employee and one of her co-conspirators for conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1832(a). In United States v. Williams, a jury convicted Joya Williams of taking trade secrets related to secret marketing materials from Coca-Cola and working with her co-conspirator, Edmund Duhaney to try to sell them to Pepsi Company through a third-party, Ibrahim Dimson. (Mr. Duhaney pleaded guilty.)

The facts under which Ms. Williams and Mr. Dimson were convicted and sentenced read like a serial clock-and-dagger television series. Ms. Williams snuck files (and even a product sample) out of her workplace, gave them to Mr. Duhaney (who testified against Ms. Williams and Mr. Dimson as part of his plea-bargain), who then contacted Mr. Dimson to act as the go-between with Pepsi Co. Mr. Dimson contacted Pepsi Co. by mailing an executive at Pepsi an offer to provide “very detailed and confidential information” about Coca-Cola he would provide “to the highest bidder.” Pepsi Co., of course, notified Coca-Cola, which then notified the FBI. An undercover agent with the FBI posed as a Pepsi executive and began the process of purchasing small confidential items with an aim towards one large purchase. After the terms of the large purchase were consummated, the FBI arrested each of the three conspirators.

As stated by the Court, the facts leave no doubt as to the validity of the underlying convictions, but Ms. Williams raised two constitutional challenges to her trial. First, she argued that the trial court’s limitation on her cross-examination of Mr. Duhaney violated her Sixth Amendment right of confrontation (the Eleventh Circuit disagreed). Second, she argued that the trial court denied her due process by striking her closing argument’s reasonable doubt analogy (again the Court of Appeals disagreed). And both Ms. Williams and Mr. Dimson appealed their sentences, arguing that the district court had placed too heavy an emphasis on the seriousness of the offense in going above the recommended sentencing guidelines for each of them. The Court of Appeals, however, held that the trial court had not abused its discretion in sentencing them.

1 Trial lawyers frequently have a series of “reasonable doubt” stories and analogies for use at closing argument, tailored to the case and whether they are the prosecutor or defense attorney. Ms. Williams’ attorney’s analogy is arguably one of the stranger ones: “Williams argues that her counsel properly explained the concept of reasonable doubt by comparing it to a patient’s desire to seek a second opinion when told by a doctor ‘you know, I’m looking at you and I think you need to have both of your legs amputated.’”