Yates v. United States (2015)
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May 09, 2021, 06:37:01 PM

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  Yates v. United States (2015)
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Author Topic: Yates v. United States (2015)  (Read 121 times)
Geoffrey Howe
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« on: May 04, 2021, 10:28:02 AM »

Time for some statutory interpretation I think.

Yates v. United States,  574 U.S. 528

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes it a federal crime to conceal, destroy etc. any 'record, document or tangible object' with the intent to impede a federal investigation.

Petitioner was a fisherman who was caught catching (sorry) undersized fish and was told by an officer to put the fish aside. He threw them overboard.

The question is whether a fish is a 'tangible object' within the meaning of SOX. It is worth noting that SOX is about corporate accountability.

Applying noscitur a sociis, Justice Ginsburg held that a fish was clearly not what was meant here; rather it mainly applied to financial documents.

Justice Kagan, dissenting, argued that a fish is by all normal definitions a 'tangible object,'  and so covered by SOX.



I'm surprised Breyer didn't write the majority opinion. This is the sort of thing he seems to love.
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Kingpoleon
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« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2021, 12:14:09 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.
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Geoffrey Howe
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« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2021, 12:57:56 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.

Really? Some have argued this, but it is by no means a settled matter.
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brucejoel99
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« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2021, 01:53:07 PM »
« Edited: May 05, 2021, 05:30:56 PM by brucejoel99 »

Kagan's dissent is always a good read just for the hilarious citation of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" alone.
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Donerail
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« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2021, 02:13:18 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.
Justice Ginsburg is not "read[ing] legislative intention into law," she is merely bothering to read the words in the rest of the sentence and the surrounding sections. Words do not have fixed meanings; they can vary based on the context in which they are used. Statutes, in particular, are often prone to using language in unusual ways that cannot be disentangled based solely on looking at the dictionary. Maxims of statutory interpretation exist to allow us to figure out how, precisely, the statute is using the language — this does not require looking at legislative intent.

A rather infamous example is a provision of the U.S. code that makes it a criminal offense "to shoot a fish from an airplane." You have to look at the specific context of the language, as well as the broader context of the statute, to determine whether it criminalizes shooting at fish from airplanes (such as with a firearm) or shooting fish out of airplanes (such as with an airplane-mounted catapult).

Here, it is fairly easy to determine what a "tangible object" means related to the title (which refers to records), adjacent provisions relating to document destruction in other types of investigations, and the list of actions prohibited by the statute in question. I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.
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Geoffrey Howe
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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2021, 02:18:56 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.
I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
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Donerail
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2021, 03:12:20 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.
I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
The verbs are relevant to determining what "tangible object" means.
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Geoffrey Howe
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2021, 03:15:58 PM »

A tangible object is a tangible object. Perhaps the legislators did not intend such a meaning, but the Court has admitted, time after time, that they ought not read legislative intention into law.
I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
The verbs are relevant to determining what "tangible object" means.

So what do the preceding verbs (including the bolded) refer to?
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Donerail
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2021, 03:46:25 PM »

I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
The verbs are relevant to determining what "tangible object" means.

So what do the preceding verbs (including the bolded) refer to?
Records.
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Geoffrey Howe
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« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2021, 03:47:53 PM »

I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
The verbs are relevant to determining what "tangible object" means.

So what do the preceding verbs (including the bolded) refer to?
Records.

And why not documents and tangible objects?
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Donerail
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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2021, 03:52:39 PM »

I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.

18 U.S.C. §1518 makes it a federal to crime to 'knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a federal investigation.

This is effectively what petitioner did by throwing the fish into the sea.
The verbs are relevant to determining what "tangible object" means.

So what do the preceding verbs (including the bolded) refer to?
Records.

And why not documents and tangible objects?
Here, it is fairly easy to determine what a "tangible object" means related to the title (which refers to records), adjacent provisions relating to document destruction in other types of investigations, and the list of actions prohibited by the statute in question. I remain at a loss as to how one would "falsify" or "make a false entry in" a red grouper.
As I have already made clear, the statute's title refers to "destruction, alteration, or falsification of records," §1520 likewise refers to "records," and the list of actions prohibited only make sense to describe documents, records and their equivalents.
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Kingpoleon
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2021, 06:37:52 PM »

The inclusion of the phrase “tangible objects” indicates not exclusively a destruction of records, but to also include a destruction of what said records record. If the legislators did not intend such a clear reading of such plain text, they ought to have made their intent clearer.
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