The U.S. Supreme Court today threw out a Florida fisherman's conviction under an evidence-tampering provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley white collar crime law for disposing of fish while he was under criminal investigation, Reuters reports. Voting 5 to 4, the court said that fisherman John Yates' actions were not the type of conduct covered by the law, which was intended to prevent fraud of the sort committed by a company like Enron Corp. Yates was convicted in 2011 on two of three charges, including one under the anti-shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley law.
The provision penalizes the destruction or concealment of “a tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence” a government investigation. There was not a clear majority on the legal reasoning in the high court’s ruling. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote on behalf of herself and three colleagues that a “tangible object” should be defined as an object that is used to record or preserve information. Justice Samuel Alito, who provided the decisive fifth vote, said the term was intended to describe file-keeping. Dissenter Elena Kagan called the law in question an “emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code.”