Fisherman wins 5-4 Supreme Court case, vindicated after facing prison for discarding undersized fish in 2007 off Florida coast
"Commercial fisherman John Yates and his crew were fishing for red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Cortez, Fla., in 2007. His vessel was boarded by John Jones, a state Fish and Wildlife officer who was working on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Yates was charged with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed after, as Nina put it, "a scandal ... destroyed energy firm Enron and resulted in criminal convictions for accounting firm Arthur Andersen."
Prosecutors said he told his crew to throw the undersized fish overboard. He was convicted of destroying evidence to impede a federal investigation and sentenced to 30 days in jail. He appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing the law applied only to documents and records, not fish.
But, as Nina noted at the time:
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes it a crime to destroy, alter or cover up "any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to ... impede or obstruct" the investigation of "any matter within federal jurisdiction.""The federal government, however, argues that the law was clearly written and intended to be a broad anti-obstruction-of-justice law that would fill gaps in the criminal code that had long existed."
Today, the court narrowly agreed with Yates, and reversed judgments by lower courts.
NPR's Carrie Johnson tells our Newscast unit that the court's majority said the "government overreached by deploying the financial fraud law against a commercial fisherman. The majority said tangible objects should be read to mean documents or computer hard drives not undersized fish."
"Fish one may fry, but may one falsify, or make a false entry in the sea-dwelling creatures?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, reading from a summary of her opinion from the bench.
She was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Also in agreement was Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a separate opinion.
Justices Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"A fisherman like John Yates, who dumps undersized fish to avoid a fine is no less blameworthy than one who shreds his vessel's catch log for the same reason," Kagan said.
The case was Yates v. United States." Tweet Stumbleupon StumbleUpon