Could New High Court Case On Fisherman Affect “Overcriminalization” Debate?


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could “become a very big part of on-going policy debates concerning the overfederalization and overcriminalization of seemingly small matters that arguably could and should be handled through civil means and without too much federal prosecutorial involvement,” says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman on his Sentencing and Public Policy blog. As reported by Scotusblog, at issue in Yates v. United States is whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's ban on destroying a “tangible object” includes only materials like documents or other records, or also includes a physical object like a fish.

A fisherman convicted of destroying undersized fish that he allegedly caught illegally in the Gulf of Mexico raised the question whether he had fair notice that the law applied to his action. Berman observes that the Yates case could end up being “a quirky criminal justice case with only limited implications unless some Justices were eager to make a big stink about the feds going criminally after a little fisherman.”

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