Sarbanes-Oxley is Getting a Little Fishy


After the scandalous collapse of Enron in 2001, the U.S. Federal Government passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to attack white collar crime on many fronts.  The law was designed to eliminate auditor conflicts of interest, prevent boardroom failures, increase internal control measures, and strengthen overall measures against white collar crime. But how about preventing commercial fisherman from releasing undersized fish?  In 2007 fisherman John Yates received a citation from a marine fisheries officer for having over 70 undersized grouper on his boat.  Yates allegedly told a crewmember to throw the fish overboard and replace them with larger ones, which was discovered by officers when the boat returned to shore.  This is where things got fishy.

Federal prosecutors decided to use a provision under Sarbanes-Oxley to charge Yates with obstructing justice by destroying evidence, punishable by a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Yates was ultimately indicted on 3 charges but luckily was only sentenced to 30 days of prison time and 3 years of supervision. Certainly the provision under Sarbanes-Oxley was in place to prevent white collar criminals from shredding documents or destroying other items such as hard drives and memory cards, but the lack of specificity in the law has led to the provision being used extremely leniently by prosecutors.   The issue has raised so many eyebrows that it is currently being debated in the Supreme Court, with a ruling expected to arrive around July 2015.

This ruling has far-reaching implications on criminal law extending into the cases of two men involved in the Boston Marathon bombings.  A judge has suspended their sentencing hearings pending the decision from the Supreme Court, because the same provision of Sarbanes-Oxley was used in their cases.  Obviously the government needs to improve upon specifying details when drafting new laws to prevent these confusing situations from reoccurring.  Sarbanes-Oxley wasn’t designed to throw a cape over all sorts of criminal law; it was designed to prevent catastrophic frauds, enhance corporate accountability, and improve the prosecution of white collar crime cases.  Hopefully the Supreme Court keeps that in mind as they make their ruling over the next year.

Tyler Curry


Levitz, Jennifer, and Brett Kendall. “Citing ‘Fish’ Case at High Court, Judge Puts Boston Bombing Sentencing On Hold.” Wall Street Journal. N.p., 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.

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