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A federal appeals court on Friday reversed the conviction of a former Goldman Sachs programmer on charges he stole computer code, ordering an acquittal in a case that tested the boundaries of what can be considered a crime as companies seek to protect their intellectual property from competitors.

The unusually speedy mandate from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan will result in freedom for Sergey Aleynikov, of North Caldwell, N.J. He has been in prison since he was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison. He was convicted in December 2010 of stealing trade secrets and transporting stolen property in interstate and foreign commerce.

A three-judge appeals panel heard arguments on Thursday, but the judges gave no indication that they would reverse the lower court hours later with a terse, one-paragraph order. The 2nd Circuit said it would issue a written ruling "in due course" to explain its decision.

Aleynikov's attorney, Kevin Marino, said he spoke with his client Friday. He said Aleynikov reacted by concluding: "There is justice in the world."

"I could not be happier," Marino said. "It's justice because Sergey Aleynikov did not commit either of the crimes with which he was charged. The government's attempt to stretch this criminal federal statute beyond all recognition resulted in a grave injustice that put Sergey Aleynikov in prison for a year."

In arguments before the 2nd Circuit on Thursday, Marino called it "ridiculous" and "preposterous" that his client was facing eight years in prison because he was found to have information that was not a product that Goldman Sachs sold in interstate and foreign commerce. A prosecutor had asked the court to uphold the conviction, saying protection of trade secrets was the only way companies could retain their technological advantages.

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