The interpretation of a 2002 federal statute, the Sabarnes-Oxley Act, has
linked the fate of two alleged accomplices of the Boston Marathon bomber
and the fate of three of Florida´s fish.
The Supreme Court is to sit and deliberate exactly what the term 'tangible'
means in the Act, a term which defense attorneys for a Florida fisherman
argue is too broad and, in their view, does not include physical objects.
The Act was enacted in 2002 as a response to the Enron Scandal a year earlier.
Officials at the energy company had got themselves into hot water after
allegedly embezzling money belonging to Enron´s shareholders, then
destroying evidence which could have incriminated them. In the Enron case
it was alleged that key paperwork had been shredded.
The Act as it stands makes it a criminal offense to destroy any record,
document or 'tangible object' in order to hamper an investigation
into any wrongdoing. The Act does not specify very clearly what exactly
a 'tangible object' is as John Yates, a fisherman who works off
the coast of Florida, was to discover in 2007.
Yates was caught by state fisheries officer with a total of 72 undersized
red grouper fish. Catching and keeping undersized fish is a federal offense,
but not in itself a criminal act. The connection with the Sabarnes-Oxley
Act was the fact that Yates allegedly threw 3 of the fish overboard on
the way into port where he had been directed to go. On arrival, officers
discovered the discrepancy and heard evidence from one of Yates' crew
that the three fish had been thrown over the side. Yates was then charged
with obstruction of justice under the Sabarnes-Oxley Act, with the three
fish being considered 'tangible objects'.
Yates could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison for
his 'crime', but instead got 30 days in jail followed by three
years of supervision after release. His attorneys appealed the case and
have argued that the term 'tangible' does not refer to anything
more physical than paperwork and documents and certainly does not include
Judges at the Supreme Court are presently deciding what exactly the term
does cover and it seems that charges laid against the Boston Bomber's
two alleged accomplices may depend on the outcome.
It was alleged that the two men, friends of the man accused of being responsible
for the mayhem on the day of the Boston marathon, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had
removed evidence that could have linked Tsarnaev with the bombing from
Tsarnaev's dorm room at college. The two men had allegedly removed
a backpack containing fireworks and were charged with conspiracy and obstruction
of justice under the Sabarnes-Oxley Act, the backpack and the fireworks
allegedly being considered 'tangible objects', like Yates'
Judges in this case are now waiting for a deliberation from the Supreme
Court on the case of the three missing fish to see if it sheds light on
whether a backpack and fireworks can actually be considered 'tangible
objects'. If not, the two accused may have their charges dismissed.
Whatever the outcome of the decision by the Supreme Court it will have
no bearing on the alleged real bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as he has been
charged with quite separate and extremely serious terrorism related charges.
It has been alleged that his actions resulted in 3 deaths amongst the
public, 260 injuries and the death of a MIT policeman.