Yates v. United States

Seat of court
Washington D.C.
Court jurisdiction
Date of opinion

A fisheries officer noticed that the defendant (Yates) had scores of undersized red grouper on board. This was a violation of federal conservation regulations, which prohibited fishermen from retaining grouper under a certain length. Yates later instructed one of his crew to throw the undersized fish overboard in an attempt to conceal the fishing violation. Based on Yates’s decision to throw the fish overboard, the prosecutor charged Yates with violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519 and § 2232(a). A jury convicted Yates on both counts. Yates appealed his conviction under section 1519. The key question for the Supreme Court was whether a fish could be considered a “tangible object” for purposes of section 1519, the provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act making it illegal to destroy or conceal various types of evidence with the intent to obstruct justice. The Supreme Court determined that “tangible object” under section 1519 means an object used to record or preserve information (e.g., a computer hard drive). Accordingly, the Court held that “tangible object” could not apply to the fish that Yates instructed his crew member to throw overboard.

Language of document
Reference number
135 S.Ct. 1074
Destruction of evidence
The judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Court cases cited
Cleveland v. United States, 531 U.S. 12 (2000)
Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561 (1995)
Legislation cited
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002