In a Silicon Valley economic espionage bout, prosecutors just got a bit bloodied. But they’re not out of punches by any means.
Judge James Ware
Judge James Ware threw out an FBI interrogation of two Chinese engineers, who are accused of stealing trade secrets from NetLogic Microsystems with the intention of selling the IP to a Chinese-government-funded entity. But Ware wouldn’t suppress a search of the engineers’ computers, and that’s where the government found most of the incriminating documents prosecutors cited in the indictment.
Agents questioned the pair, Lan Lee and Yuefei Ge, at NetLogic’s Mountain View headquarters in 2003 for several hours. For the purposes of the Fifth Amendment, the engineers were in custody, Ware ruled, and should have been Mirandized. While Ware deemed their claims of FBI threats not credible, that didn’t save the government.
One lonely room with a stonefaced cop is as good as another, after the jump ...
“Both defendants appeared to the court to be overly anxious to characterize the interrogation as hostile and confrontational to advance their interests in being successful on the motion,” Ware wrote (.pdf). “However, the isolated, long interrogations gave the agents freedom to use tactics which they would not be able to use as effectively in a brief, public meeting. The court finds that the agents were able to take advantage of the isolation of both defendants in a manner similar to a police station interrogation.”
This part of the decision definitely hurts the government: under interrogation, Lee denied possessing any Netlogic material on his home computer, according to Ware’s ruling. That, of course, wasn’t the case, and lying to the FBI never looks too good in front of a jury (at an evidentiary hearing, Lee said he gave those answers because of the particular phrasing of the questions). In any case, assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella can’t use those statements now.
However, had Ware suppressed the entire computer search, it would have been difficult to imagine how the government could have proceeded at all. But since the engineers signed consent forms for the computers — even though they were in custody — agents were within bounds to take the documents. That probably leaves this case with plenty of fight left on both sides.
— Dan Levine