Is a fish a “tangible object” for purposes of the Sarbanes Oxley Act?

When the drafters of the Sarbanes Oxley Act made it a crime punishable for up to 20 years in prison to destroy “any record, document or tangible object” in order to obstruct an investigation, did they intend to address the throwing overboard of fish?  

That was the issue of sufficient importance to be decided today by the Supreme Court in Yates v. United States.

(The fish in question were evidence of a crime of catching a fish too short.)

In that action the Defendant/Appellant argued that the statutory prohibition is  “a documents offense” and that its reference to “tangible object[s]” means “computer hard drives, logbooks, [and] things of that nature,” not fish.

In other words, the question was whether the Court could apply a common sense interpretation of the statute rather than a broad dictionary definition of “tangible objects,” because fish certain are “tangible objects” by that term’s ordinary meaning.

In a 5-4 majority a common sense reading of the statute prevailed, and the criminal charges were thrown out.  Fish, it seems, are not “tangible objects.” 

Read the whole article here in the New York Times.

Read the decision here.