Under the Penal Code, Misuse of Official Information prohibits a public servant from using or disclosing information for a nongovernmental purpose with the intent to obtain a benefit or harm another. Official information is information that the public servant has access to by virtue of his office or employment that has not been made available to the public.
Other examples of acts that would fall under this statute include a peace officer who runs the license plate of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend with an intent to harm the new boyfriend or a person in government who discloses sensitive information to the media.
Misuse of Official Information | Penal Code 39.06
A public servant has access to information that is not made public. Chapter 39 of the Penal Code restricts the use of that information in several ways. Penal Code 39.06 makes it illegal for a public servant to rely on information the public servant has by virtue of their office and that is not public to obtain a financial interest in property, speculate on the basis of that information, or coerce someone else to suppress information. Penal Code Section 39.06 also makes it illegal to use or disclose information that he has by means of his office and that has not been made public. The definition contains two components stated in the conjunctive: information to which the public does not generally have access; and that is prohibited from disclosure under the Open Records Act. Government Code Chapter 552 Subchapter C prohibits the disclosure a variety of records. This includes confidential information, information in personnel files, litigation files, bids, certain legal matters, email addresses, certain investigative matters, certain private communications, agency memos, student records, as well as birth and death records.
An offense under Penal Code Section 39.06 is generally third degree felony.
Application to Non-Public Officials
If you are not a public official, why should you care about these statutes? Under Penal Code Section 7.03, a person who aids a public official in the commission of an offense that can only be committed by a public official may be charged as if he or she had directly committed the offense themselves even though he or she lacked the legal capacity to commit the offense.
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