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Yates v. United States


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.

Winter, Secretary of the NAVY v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.


The US Navy was using mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar during its training exercises off the coast of southern California. The plaintiffs argued that the use of sonar causes serious injuries to marine mammals and sued the Navy, asking for declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis that the Navy had violated NEPA by conducting harmful sonar training without having first prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The District Court granted the injunction after determining that the plaintiffs had shown a probability of success on their NEPA and CZMA claims. The court of appeals upheld the injunction because the negative impact of the injunction on the Navy was considered speculative, and because the balance of hardships and the public interest favored the plaintiffs. The Navy filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court rules that the standard for granting an injunction used by the lower court (requiring only a possibility of irreparable harm) was too lenient. But even if the plaintiffs could have shown that there was a likelihood of irreparable harm (the correct standard), this was outweighed by the public and Navy’s interest in effective and realistic training. Deference must be given to the military with regard to the relative importance of a particular military interest.