This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Yates vs. the United States. Commercial fishermen John Yates was caught with dozens of illegally caught grouper, he destroyed much of the evidence of this crime, and he was charged under a law designed to prosecute people for destruction of evidence. He is now suing the government for overreach.
The question of whether a law most commonly known for being used to deal with destruction of financial records can also be used to deal with destruction of evidence of illegal fishing is an interesting one. The Obama administration claims that the law was designed to be a generic Federal destruction of evidence ban, and it has also been used, according to a USA Today article, to “go after the destruction of cars, cash, cocaine, child pornography- even murder weapons and bodies.” It seems to me that it is an appropriate role of government to write regulations to ensure that our shared natural resources are sustainably exploited, it is an appropriate role of government to enforce violations of those laws, and it is an appropriate role of government to punish people for destroying evidence of those violations. A much bigger problem, however, is with much of the media coverage of this case.