Court Overturns Conviction of Ex-Goldman Programmer

A federal appeals court reversed the conviction late Thursday of Sergey Aleynikov, a former Goldman Sachs programmer found guilty of stealing proprietary code from the bank’s high-frequency trading platform.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the conviction and ordered the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal. A judgment of acquittal generally bars the government from retrying a defendant.

The reversal was without explanation; it said an opinion would follow “in due course.”

The appeals court ruling came just hours after a three-judge panel heard oral arguments on Mr. Aleynikov’s appeal. Mr. Aleynikov, who was convicted in December 2010, is serving an eight-year sentence at a federal prison in Fort Dix, N.J.

“We are pleased and gratified that the court of appeals has roundly rejected the government’s attempt to rewrite the federal criminal laws,” said Kevin Marino, Mr. Aleynikov’s lawyer. “Mr. Aleynikov spent a year in prison and suffered many other losses as a result of these unjust charges, but he never lost faith in his ability to win an acquittal. This is a wonderful day in his life.”

Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, declined to comment.

The reversal deals a major blow to the Justice Department, which has made the prosecution of high-tech crime and intellectual property theft a top priority. This case tested the boundaries of the Economic Espionage Act, a 15-year-old law that makes it a crime to steal trade secrets. Federal prosecutors held up the arrest of Mr. Aleynikov as an example of the government’s crackdown on employees who steal valuable and proprietary information from their employers.

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