In Yates v. United States, a criminal case pending before the United States Supreme Court, Mr. Yates was charged under 18 U.S.C. section 1519, the “anti-shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, for knowingly altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing, covering up, falsifying, or making a false entry in any record, document, or “tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation.
Mr. Yates was a commercial fisherman who was charged and convicted under this anti-shredding criminal statute for destroying allegedly undersized, harvested fish from the Gulf of Mexico after a federal officer had issued him a civil citation for the violation and instructed him to bring the fish back to port.
This case presents the important issue of whether section 1519 extends to the destruction of anything meeting the dictionary definition of “tangible objects” or whether this statute is limited to the destruction of tangible objects related to record-keeping.
Mr. Yates claims he was deprived of fair notice and due process of law that the destruction of the illegally harvested fish would fall within the prohibitions of 18 U.S.C. section 1519 since the term “tangible object” is ambiguous and undefined in that statute and unlike the nouns accompanying “tangible object” set out in section 1519, possesses no record-keeping, documentary, or informational content or purpose.
Again, this case underscores the dangers in broadly worded criminal statutes which are left to the interpretation of prosecutors and judges to determine whether a person such as Mr. Yates has committed a criminal offense that was never intended under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.