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MaxKatt

20 years for undersized fish?

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Not sure if this fun has been kicked around here yet.

 

Short story?… Supreme Court considering if fish are a "tangible object" (clearly yes)…as defined by Sarbanes-Oxley (less clear) which prohibits destruction of such evidence (in this case undersized fish).

 

1824867

 

 

 

WASHINGTON — Most of the justices seemed troubled by Supreme Court arguments on Wednesday about the prosecution of a Florida fisherman for throwing three undersize red grouper back into the Gulf of Mexico.

 

The fisherman, John L. Yates, was convicted of violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a federal law aimed primarily at white-collar crime. The law imposes a maximum sentence of 20 years for the destruction of “any record, document or tangible object” in order to obstruct an investigation.

 

Mr. Yates’s primary argument was that fish are not the sort of tangible objects with which the law was concerned.

 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. seemed to agree. He asked what people would say “if you stopped them on the street and said, 'Is a fish a record, document or tangible object?’ ”

 

Justice Antonin Scalia said, “I don’t think you’d get a polite answer.”

 

But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said it would be odd to let Mr. Yates throw fish overboard, destroying evidence, but to allow him to be prosecuted for tearing up photographs of the fish.

 

Though Mr. Yates seemed likely to prevail on his main argument, the justice’s real ire was focused elsewhere.

 

Some were critical of the decision to prosecute Mr. Yates at all.

 

“What kind of a mad prosecutor would try to send this guy up for 20 years?” Justice Scalia asked. (Mr. Yates was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment.)

 

The Supreme Court has been wary of stretching federal laws to fit minor crimes, ruling in June in Bond v. United States, for instance, that a chemical weapons treaty could not be used as the basis for a prosecution of a domestic dispute.

 

“Who do you have out there that exercises prosecutorial discretion?” Justice Scalia asked the government’s lawyer, Roman Martinez. “Is this the same guy that brought the prosecution in Bond last term?”

 

Mr. Martinez said Mr. Yates’s crime was a serious one, involving lying and a cover-up.

 

Chief Justice Roberts was skeptical. “You make him sound like a mob boss,” he said.

 

The case arose from a 2007 search of the Miss Katie, Mr. Yates’s fishing vessel. A Florida field officer, John Jones, boarded the ship at sea and noticed fish that seemed less than 20 inches long, which was under the minimum legal size of red grouper at the time.

 

Mr. Jones, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a federal deputy, measured the fish and placed the 72 he deemed too small in a crate. He issued a citation and instructed Mr. Yates to take the crate to port for seizure.

 

But Mr. Yates threw the fish overboard and had his crew replace them with larger ones. A second inspection in port found only 69 undersize fish and aroused suspicions, and a crew member eventually told law enforcement officials what had happened.

 

Some justices were wary of the sweep of the law, which applies to “any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States.”

 

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the law would allow prosecution for the destruction of a census form. “The risk of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is a real one,” he said.

 

John L. Badalamenti, a lawyer for Mr. Yates, said that sustaining the law would mean that “the American people will be walking on eggshells.”

 

Mr. Martinez acknowledged that the law may be subject to attack as too broad and vague. But he said those issues were not squarely raised in the case argued Wednesday, Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451.

 

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who is generally sympathetic to arguments from prosecutors, was skeptical.

 

“You are really asking the court to swallow something that is pretty hard to swallow,” he said. The law, he said, “is capable of being applied to really trivial matters, and yet each of those would carry a potential penalty of 20 years.”

 

The lawyers and justices for the most part resisted the temptation to make fish jokes. But Justice Kennedy got one in near the end of the argument.

 

“Perhaps Congress should have called this the Sarbanes-Oxley-Grouper Act,” he said.

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That really does not make sense to me.  If I am understanding that law correctly for what the captain was prosecuted for.  Wouldn't we all be breaking the law, since we all release undersize fish and don't report them.  Or what about the captains on deadliest catch, who all throw back their under sized crabs without keeping and reporting them?  Are they breaking the law because their are throwing back shorts/destroying a tangible object to make room for the keepers?  Or is there something missing?  Did the captain keep the undersized fish to reach his quota and was caught.


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They were no longer "fish" rather they were now "evidence"

The wildlife officer messed up by not confiscating them on the spot and leaving them on the boat.

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Alright, I got it now, I understood it as the captain wanted to throw them back because they were short and not because it was evidence to his crime of poaching undersized fish.  Than, yeah, he deserved to be prosecuted for destroying evidence, just like a drug dealer destroying or throwing away their drugs, at least in my mind.


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Quote:

Originally Posted by wonkman View Post

Why did he dump 72 smalls and replace with 69 smalls. LOL something to do with 70 I guess.



maybe they replaced the full 72 fish with larger fish hoping more of them would be legal, and 3 of the "new" fish werent short? that confused me too... maybe theyre just bad at counting :p


But it certainly sounds like destruction of evidence. They werent returning the short fish as they were caught, they tried to keep them and then tossed them overboard when they were caught with their hands in the cookie jar. 20 years though? sounds really harsh... Punishment should fit the crime. Federal sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 10 years....


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I believe the fish were already dead so its not like he through back a shorty like he was single line fishing . I'm guessing he had these fish packed in his coolers and he had all intentions of keeping and selling them, until he got caught . I think it is ridiculous to put this man in jail, give him a stiff fine and keep an eye on him in the future making frequent checks on his catches .

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Most likely it wasn't his first time taking short fish, but if it was the first time getting caught I don't think the punishment fits the crime . Like I stated earlier he should be heavily fined and checked a little more often then normal . If he is a repeat offender then hit him with the book .

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Livefreeordie if that is what he got then I agree . In the OP it said possible 20 years , I believe that is a little much .

 

I only heard about this case through a casual conversation at Bass Pro today, and I'm not really clear on the law...but I do know that when it comes to Florida and grouper (as well as snook and a few other species), you shouldn't play with the authorities...it's not going to end well

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The Supreme Court's concern is the breadth of the statute. The drafters of the statute probably had in mind "tangible objects" such as hard drives, DVDs and so on, but as a matter of ordinary English usage, a fish is most definitely a "tangible object." The meaning of a word in ordinary English usage is supposed to define what it means in the statute; the expressed concerns of the drafters, the legislative history of a statute's creation, is something that a court is supposed to consider only when the meaning of a word is unclear.

 

I have no idea which way the court will go. If the colloquy reflects anything, it's a view that fishery regulation is so trivial a matter as to be below the scope of criminal law. If they decide it on that basis, and they might, fisheries enforcement is going to be crippled.

 

We'll see.

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30 days. He'll probably do 20. Punishment fits the crime.

 

I agree. Interesting that it lands at the Supreme Court, but they always apply a measurableness to these things.

 

I can't see any way anyone thinks 20 years for a few small fish is the best use of taxpayer time/resource, or this guys life. Not to diminish what he did, but when they place it on the scale, 20 years seems too heavy.

 

Does send a good message though regarding not to mess around with the regs…especially down there. Even if he gets off with a fine and a few days, I'm sure he could do without the headache and notoriety. I'm sure he's already learned a lesson and would do things differently.

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