A recent ruling by the US Supreme Court involving a Florida fisherman could possibly have an impact on criminal cases brought against friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev. This is the indication that legal teams involved in the case have given to the media.
John Yates, a commercial fishing boat captain was convicted of getting rid of fish he caught that were under the minimum legal size permitted in the Gulf of Mexico. He was charged under an anti-shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which clearly prohibits knowingly altering or destroying a document, record or tangible object with the intention of obstructing a federal investigation. Yates argued that this particular law was related to the destruction of financial documents and not fish. In a 5-4 ruling in February, the justices threw out his conviction.
A federal judge postponed the sentencing of Azamat Tazhayokov and Dias Kadyrbayev in November on the grounds that the case defined tangible evidence under an obstruction of justice law that was passed previously because of the Enron scandal.
In the Boston Marathon bombing investigation, Tazhayakov was found guilty and Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty on obstruction charges of removing a backpack from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and disposing it. But now in light of the fisherman’s verdict, Tazhayakov’s attorney, Nicholas Woodbridge believes that his client’s conviction could be thrown out as well.
Tsarnaev’s third friend Robert Phillipos is also waiting for his sentencing after he was convicted of lying to the FBI about his presence in Tsarnaev’s dorm room when the other two were removing the backpack. His legal team is also reviewing the implications of the Yates decision and believe it could have significant bearing on his case.
The selection for a jury is already underway for the Tsarnaev case and he could face the death penalty if convicted.