At the Library of Law and Liberty Blog, Michael S. Greve comments:
So here’s how this went down, supposedly: Mr. Yates, a commercial fisherman, tools around on his “Miss Katie” in the Gulf of Mexico. Along comes a vessel with government officials (state officials, but deputized by the feds to enforce federal fishing laws). The officials board Miss Katie and find suspicious red grouper: the fish look too small. They measure some of the fish and find that six dozen are below the legal size of 20 inches. They instruct Mr. Yates to keep the small fish in an ice box until docking, and depart. Mr. Yates instructs his crew to toss the offending fish overboard and to replace them with legal specimens.
He gets indicted and convicted (30 days in the slammer and three years supervised release)—under what law? 18 USC 2232(a) (destruction or removal of property to prevent seizure); and (drumroll!) the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SarbOx). Enacted in the wake on the Enron scandal to combat financial wrongdoing, SarbOx threatens up to 20 years in prison for anyone who
"knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States." [18 USC 1519]
The fish are “tangible objects” and so good night, says the government. Wrong, say Mr. Yates’ lawyers and numerous amici: the statute prohibits making a false entry [etc] in any record, document, or tangible object—like a computer. It’s aimed at punishing the destruction of information, and the fish had none.