U.S. Supreme Court

Does Sarbanes-Oxley apply to destruction of fish evidence? SCOTUS to decide


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley law barring destruction of objects in a criminal probe applies to a fisherman accused of tossing overboard fish deemed too small by a conservation official.

Fishing captain John Yates is appealing his conviction under the law, which netted him a 30-day sentence, report the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). The law bars destruction of “any record, document or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence” a federal investigation.

Yates is accused of throwing the fish overboard and replacing them with larger ones after a conservation official said 72 red grouper he caught were less than the 20-inch minimum size. The official put the 72 fish in a crate and told Yates to bring them to port to be seized. When Yates arrived at port, only 69 fish were too small.

A crew member later told officials that Yates had ordered the small fish to be thrown overboard and replaced with larger fish. Yates denied the allegations. He could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison under the Sarbanes-Oxley law.

A federal appeals court had ruled the Sarbanes-Oxley law applied to Yates because the phrase “tangible object … unambiguously applies to fish.”

Yates wrote about the case for Politico. How Appealing noted the story. “DOJ’s criminal indictment against me is an inappropriate and insulting expansion of federal criminal law,” Yates wrote. “The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was never intended to attack unassuming, hardworking Americans for crimes unrelated to the destruction of records or documents.”

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