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Florida fisherman prosecuted under Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

A fisherman was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury in Florida and sentenced to 30-days in jail. The fisherman was accused of violating a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. While the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in response to what happened with Enron, it was used against the fisherman for supposedly throwing fish overboard in response to a fishing citation that he received.

The concern when Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed was that companies were allegedly shredding documents to impede an investigation by federal authorities. Since the act was put into place to prevent one form of criminal conduct, few people would envision it being used against a fisherman who disposed of fish to possibly obstruct an investigation. The matter is thus being sent onto the U.S. Supreme Court concerning questions of statutory interpretation. There are also concerns about possible over-criminalization when it comes to use of specific statutes.

There have not been a large number of prosecutions under Sarbanes-Oxley. While no executive from Wall Street has spent any time in jail due to violations of this act, this fisherman has now been sentenced to jail. As one commentator suggests, it may be easier for the government to go after smaller offenses purportedly covered under such acts than to prosecute those accused of more major crimes.

That such a matter makes it to the Supreme Court demonstrates the concern over criminal statutes that are applied overbroadly. The phrase "white-collar crime" has been defined very broadly by the courts and covers an extremely wide variety of activities. The Sarbanes-Oxley legislation was passed as a result of the white-collar criminal conduct and resulting publicity concerning the Enron case. The use of the law was never intended to criminalize the use of a fishing pole.

Criminal defense attorneys will argue the unique merits of each case when defending individuals accused of crimes in court. District attorneys are often aggressive in prosecuting crimes and everyone charged with a crime are entitled as well to aggressive representation. The passage of even more criminal laws in response to major news events has repeatedly resulted in laws being used to punish those who Congress never imagined would be subjected to punishment.

Source: Financial Advisor, "We're Using Enron Laws To Prosecute A Fisherman?" Jonathan Weil, April 24, 2014