The Misuse of Official Information crime in the state of Texas makes it illegal for a public servant (like a judge or a legislator) to use secret information to obtain money, commit fraud or otherwise harm someone. Learn more detailed information about the Misuse of Official Information offense below.
MISUSE OF OFFICIAL INFORMATION ATTORNEY FAQs
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Beware that “public servant” is defined broadly in case law. Public servant could include school administrators, teachers and anyone else that works for the government.
These cases can be difficult to prosecute. In State v. Ford and State v. Newton, cases were dismissed because the information was excluded from the Public Information Act and thus not prohibited from disclosure. The salient point here is the subsection (d) definition of the type of information which is secret:
In this section, “information that has not been made public” means any information to which the public does not generally have access, and that is prohibited from disclosure under Chapter 552, Government Code.
Another notable case arose out of Victoria County in 2008, where a district attorney indicted the mayor, chief of police and others for Misuse of Official Information. The indictments were dismissed because the prosecuting attorney did not adequately handle the definition in subsection (d).
Misuse of Official Information is classified in the Texas Penal Code under Title 8 “Offenses Against Public Administration”, Chapter 39 “Abuse Of Office.”
The current Texas law defines the offense of Misuse of Official Information in Penal Code Section §39.06 as follows:
(a) A public servant commits an offense if, in reliance on information to which the public servant has access by virtue of the person’s office or employment and that has not been made public, the person:
(1) acquires or aids another to acquire a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction, or enterprise that may be affected by the information;
(2) speculates or aids another to speculate on the basis of the information; or
(3) as a public servant, including as a school administrator, coerces another into suppressing or failing to report that information to a law enforcement agency.
(b) A public servant commits an offense if with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he discloses or uses information for a nongovernmental purpose that:
(1) he has access to by means of his office or employment; and
(2) has not been made public.
(c) A person commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he solicits or receives from a public servant information that:
(1) the public servant has access to by means of his office or employment; and
(2) has not been made public.
(d) In this section, “information that has not been made public” means any information to which the public does not generally have access, and that is prohibited from disclosure under Chapter 552, Government Code.
You can be charged with Misuse of Official Information if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 39.06(a) as described in the section above have been met.
If the offense falls under (a)(3) then a conviction for Misuse of Official Information is punished as a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $500.
If the offense falls under any subsection other than (a)(3) then a conviction for Misuse of Official Information is punished as a Felony of the Third Degree, with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $10,000 and prison time of up to 10 years. Learn about the differences between grades of felonies and misdemeanors