We previously reported on a U.S. Supreme Court case which interpreted the evidence destruction provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. A plurality of the Court held in Yates that destruction of fish was not destruction of a tangible object and therefore did not violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In that case the Supreme Court concluded that the reference to “tangible objects” in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act should be read to cover only objects one can use to record or preserve information, not all objects in the physical world.
At that time I wondered what the next case would look like . . .
In United States v. Carroll, the owner of a 1996 Saab was shot to death during a drug transaction in Humboldt County, California. In the indictment, the government alleged that after the murder was committed, the accused drove the 1996 Saab to a remote area and set it on fire. The accused were charged with knowing destruction of a “tangible object” -i.e. the Saab – with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation, in violation of a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, as codified in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1519.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held it was “common sense” that a Saab is not a tangible object. The District Court noted the Yates plurality reasoned that a “tangible object” must be an object that is capable of being falsified or bearing a false entry. This District Court found this reasoning applies with equal force to an automobile. In short, it would be just as unnatural to describe a torched sedan as falsified.