Protection of Government PropertyIntangible
The inclusion of the phrase "thing of value" in 18 U.S.C. § 641
creates a problem regarding whether the theft of intangible property is
by this section. At least one case has adopted the view that 18 U.S.C.
applies only to "corporeal or tangible property" and refused to extend that
section to the theft of services. See Chappell v. United
270 F.2d 274, 277 (9th Cir. 1959). But see Burnett v. United
States, 222 F.2d 426 (6th Cir. 1955) (affirming a 18 U.S.C. § 641
conviction involving the theft of services).|
A number of recent decisions, however, have suggested that this
includes intangible, as well as tangible losses. See United
Girard, 601 F.2d 69, 71 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 871
(theft of information stored in government computer); United States v.
DiGilio, 538 F.2d 972 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1038
(theft by photocopying government records). Moreover, the Ninth Circuit
to depart from Chappell in United States v. Friedman, 445 F.2d
1076, 1087 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 958 (1971), when it
a jury charge that information in a grand jury transcript is government
regardless of the ownership of the sheets of paper on which the information
These later decisions appear to express the better view on this
The extension of 18 U.S.C. § 641 to intangible property interests is
consistent with both the plain language of the statute and the judicial
construction of that language. The term "thing of value" is certainly broad
enough to encompass both tangible and intangible properties and, in fact,
been construed to cover intangibles. See United States v.
601 F.2d at 71 (collecting cases). Moreover, such a construction is in
with the interpretation given 18 U.S.C. § 641 by the Supreme Court in
Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246 (1952). In
the Court indicated that 18 U.S.C. § 641 was drafted broadly to reach
misuse of government property. Id. at 271. A construction of this
section which extends it to tangible and intangible government property is
consistent with this objective.
[cited in USAM 9-66.200]