John Yates, a commercial fisherman, caught undersized red grouper in federal waters in the Gulf…

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FACTS: John Yates, a commercial fisherman, caught undersized red grouper in federal waters in
the Gulf of Mexico. To prevent federal authorities from confirming that he had harvested
undersized fish, Yates ordered a crew member to toss the suspect fish into the sea. Yates was
charged with obstruction of justice through destruction of the small red grouper fish.
DECISIONS BELOW: Yates was convicted and appealed. His conviction was upheld. He
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
ISSUE ON APPEAL: Is the release of fish back into the sea obstruction of justice?
DECISION: A split court held that the fish were not “tangible objects” for purposes of the
obstruction of justice statute. The court held that the statute was passed to cover files and
electronic records and not tangible objects such as fish. The court held that the statute was
passed in the wake of financial and ethical collapses in companies and was not intended to have
generic application. It was directed at electronic files and documentation, not tangible objects
such as fish.
Questions:
1. Explain what Mr. Yates did and why.
2. Describe the terms used in the statute at issue and the history of the statute.
3. Why does the dissent think the majority made the decision it did?

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