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Noah Feldman

Why Supreme Court Could Hear 'Cannibal Cop' Case

At heart is a mundane question about how you use your work computer.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Photographer: Michael Smith/Newsmakers

There may have been a stranger and more lurid case in the federal appeals courts in 2015 than that of Gilberto Valle, the "cannibal cop." But if there was, I haven’t heard of it -- and it doesn’t carry the same high probability of going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on Thursday vacated both Valle’s conviction for conspiracy to kidnap and a second conviction for unauthorized use of a computer database to look up a possible victim. Both parts of the decision deserve a close look, for different reasons. The first half, which is more fascinating but won't make it to the Supreme Court, found the appeals court drawing a sharp line between fantasy and reality. The second, which may well be heard by the justices, raises far-reaching questions of how the law should regulate employees who use office computers for nonauthorized uses.