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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
JOHN L. YATES, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES
on writ of certiorari to the united states courtroom of appeals for the 11th circuit
[February 25, 2015]
Justice Ginsburg introduced the judgment of the Court and brought an opinion, in which The Chief Justice, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor join.
John Yates, a business fisherman, stuck undersized pink grouper in federal waters inside the Gulf of Mexico. To save you federal government from confirming that he had harvested undersized fish, Yates ordered a crew member to toss the suspect catch into the ocean. For this offense, he became charged with, and convicted of, violating18 U. S. C. §1519, which offers:
“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a fake access in any report, report, or tangible object with the motive to obstruct, hinder, or impact the investigation or proper administration of any depend inside the jurisdiction of any department or organisation of the United States or any case filed under title eleven, or on the subject of or contemplation of this type of count number or case, shall be fined underneath this title, imprisoned not more than twenty years, or each.”
Yates turned into additionally indicted and convicted beneath §2232(a), which provides:
“Destruction or Removal of Property to Prevent Seizure.—Whoever, before, at some stage in, or after any look for or seizure of assets via any man or woman authorized to make such seek or seizure, knowingly destroys, damages, wastes, disposes of, transfers, or otherwise takes any action, or knowingly tries to spoil, damage, waste, get rid of, switch, or otherwise take any motion, for the cause of preventing or impairing the Government’s lawful authority to take such belongings into its custody or manage or to continue preserving such property beneath its lawful custody and control, shall be fined beneath this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or each.”
Yates does no longer contest his conviction for violating §2232(a), but he keeps that fish aren't trappedwithin the time period “tangible object,” as that time period is used in §1519.
Section 1519 changed into enacted as a part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002,116Stat.745, regulation designed to defend buyers and repair believe in financial markets following the collapse of Enron Corporation. A fish is not any doubt an object that is tangible; fish can be visible, stuck, andhandled, and a seize, as this case illustrates, is vulnerable to destruction. But it'd cut §1519 unfastened from itsfinancial-fraud mooring to preserve that it encompasses any and all objects, some thing their length or significance, destroyed with obstructive cause. Mindful that in Sarbanes-Oxley, Congress trained its interest on company and accounting deception and cowl-ups, we finish that a matching creation of §1519 is in order: A tangible item captured with the aid of §1519, we keep, must be one used to document or maintain information.
On August 23, 2007, the Miss Katie, a commercial fishing boat, was six days into an expedition inside the Gulf of Mexico. Her crew numbered three, consisting of Yates, the captain. Engaged in a routine offshore patrol to look into both leisure and industrial vessels, Officer John Jones of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided to board the Miss Katie to check on the vessel’s compliance with fishing rules. Although the Miss Katie was a long way enough from the Florida coast to be in exclusively federal waters, she was however within Officer Jones’s jurisdiction. Because he had been deputized as a federal agent by using the National Marine Fisheries Service, Officer Jones had authority to put in force federal, in addition to country, fishing laws.
Upon boarding the Miss Katie, Officer Jones noticed three red grouper that appeared to be undersized placing from a hook at the deck. At the time, federal conservation rules required immediately launch of red grouper less than 20 inches long. 50 CFR §622.37(d)(2)(ii) (powerful April 2, 2007). Violation of those regulations is a civil offense punishable through a quality or fishing license suspension. See 16 U. S. C. §§1857(1)(A), (G), 1858(a), (g).
Suspecting that other undersized fish might be on board, Officer Jones proceeded to investigate the ship’s trap, setting apart and measuring only fish that regarded to him to be shorter than 20 inches. Officer Jones ultimately decided that seventy two fish fell quick of the 20inch mark. A fellow officer recorded the period of every of the undersized fish on a catch dimension verification shape. With few exceptions, the measured fish have been between 19 and 20 inches; 3 were much less than 19 inches; none have been less than 18.75 inches. After setting apart the fish measuring under 20 inches from the rest of the catch through placing them in wooden crates, Officer Jones directed Yates to depart the fish, accordingly segregated, in the crates until the Miss Katie returned to port. Before departing, Officer Jones issued Yates a quotation for ownership of undersized fish.
Four days later, after the Miss Katie had docked in Cortez, Florida, Officer Jones measured the fish contained within the timber crates. This time, but, the measured fish, despite the fact that nonetheless less than 20 inches, barely handed the lengths recorded on board. Jones surmised that the fish introduced to port were no longer the same as the ones he had detected in the course of his initial inspection. Under thinking, one of the group contributors admitted that, at Yates’s course, he had thrown overboard the fish Officer Jones had measured at sea, and that he and Yates had replaced the tossed grouper with fish from the rest of the capture.
For motives now not disclosed inside the report before us, extra than 32 months handed before criminal fees were lodged towards Yates. On May five, 2010, he turned into indicted for destroying belongings to prevent a federal seizure, in violation of §2232(a), and for destroying, concealing, and protecting up undersized fish to obstruct a federal research, in violation of §1519. By the time of the indictment, the minimum felony length for Gulf purple grouper had been lowered from 20 inches to 18 inches. See 50 CFR §622.37(d)(2)(iv) (effective May 18, 2009). No measured fish in Yates’s seize fell under that restrict. The file does no longer monitor what civil penalty, if any, Yates received for his possession of fish undersized below the 2007 law. See16 U. S. C. §1858(a).
Yates became tried at the crook charges in August 2011. At the cease of the Government’s case in leader, he moved for a judgment of acquittal on the §1519 fee. Pointing to §1519’s identify and its origin as a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Yates argued that the segment sets forth “a files offense” and that its connection with “tangible object[s]” subsumes “laptop tough drives, logbooks, [and] matters of that nature,” not fish. App. ninety one–92. Yates recounted that the Criminal Code consists of “sections that would have been appropriate for the [G]overnment to pursue” if it wanted to prosecute him for tampering with evidence. App. ninety one. Section 2232(a), set out supra, at 1–2, healthy that description. But §1519, Yates insisted, did no longer.
The Government countered that a “tangible object” within §1519’s compass is “truely some thing aside from a file or report.” App. ninety three. The trial decide expressed misgivings about analyzing “tangible object” as broadly as the Government advised: “Isn’t there a Latin word [about] production of a statute . . . . The gist of it is . . . you take a look at [a] line of phrases, and you interpret the phrases continuously. So in case you’re speaking approximately documents, and statistics, tangible items are tangible items within the nature of a record or a document, in preference to a fish.” Ibid. The first-instance decide though observed controlling Eleventh Circuit precedent. While recognizing that §1519 turned into handed as a part of law targeting corporate fraud, the Court of Appeals had told that “the broad language of §1519 isn't always limited to corporate fraud cases, and ‘Congress is unfastened to bypass legal guidelines with language overlaying areas nicely beyond the precise disaster du jour that to begin with brought on legislative motion.’ ” No. 2:10–cr–sixty six–FtM–29SPC (MD Fla., Aug. 8, 2011), App. 116 (quoting United States v. Hunt, 526 F. 3d 739, 744 (CA11 2008)). Accordingly, the trial court docket read “tangible item” as a time period “impartial” of “report” or “document.” App. 116. For violating §1519 and §2232(a), the courtroom sentenced Yates to imprisonment for 30 days, followed by using supervised launch for three years. App. 118–a hundred and twenty. For existence, he'll bear the stigma of getting a federal prison conviction.
On attraction, the Eleventh Circuit found the textual content of §1519 “undeniable.” 733 F. 3d 1059, 1064 (2013). Because “tangible item” became “undefined” inside the statute, the Court of Appeals gave the term its “normal or natural that means,” i.e., its dictionary definition, “[h]aving or possessing bodily form.” Ibid. (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1592 (9th ed. 2009)).
We granted certiorari, 572 U. S. ___ (2014), and now reverse the Eleventh Circuit’s judgment.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, all agree, became triggered through the publicity of Enron’s huge accounting fraud and revelations that the organisation’s out of doors auditor, Arthur Andersen LLP, had systematically destroyed probably incriminating files. The Government recognizes that §1519 became intended to restrict, especially, corporate record-shredding to hide proof of financial incorrect-doing. Brief for United States 46. Prior regulation made it an offense to “intimidat[e], threate[n], or corruptly persuad[e] some other character” to shred files. §1512(b) (emphasis introduced). Section 1519 cured a conspicuous omission through enforcing legal responsibility on a person who destroys records himself. See S. Rep. No. 107–146, p. 14 (2002) (describing §1519 as “a new widespread anti shredding provision” and explaining that “sure contemporary provisions make it against the law to persuade some other character to destroy files, however not against the law to definitely break the equal files yourself”). The new segment additionally elevated previous law by way of including within the provision’s reach “any count within the jurisdiction of any branch or organisation of the United States.” Id., at 14–15.
In the Government’s view, §1519 extends beyond the essential evil motivating its passage. The phrases of §1519, the Government argues, help reading the supply as a wellknown ban at the spoliation of evidence, masking all bodily gadgets that might be relevant to any matter under federal investigation.
Yates urges a contextual analyzing of §1519, tying “tangible object” to the surrounding phrases, the placement of the supply within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and related provisions enacted on the equal time, especially §1520 and §1512(c)(1), see infra, at 10, 12–thirteen. Section 1519, he maintains, targets now not all way of proof, however records, files, and tangible gadgets used to keep them, e.g., computers, servers, and different media on which records is saved.
We believe Yates and reject the Government’s unrestrained reading. “Tangible item” in §1519, we finish, is better read to cover best items you can still use to report or keep records, not all items inside the physical global.
The ordinary which means of an “item” this is “tangible,” as stated in dictionary definitions, is “a discrete . . . component,” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1555 (2002), that “own[es] bodily form,” Black’s Law Dictionary 1683 (10th ed. 2014). From this premise, the Government concludes that “tangible object,” as that time period appears in §1519, covers the waterfront, consisting of fish from the sea.
Whether a statutory term is unambiguous, but, does no longer flip totally on dictionary definitions of its issue phrases. Rather, “[t]he plainness or ambiguity of statutory language is determined [not only] by using connection with the language itself, [but as well by] the unique context in which that language is used, and the wider context of the statute as an entire.” Robinson v. Shell Oil Co.,519 U. S. 337,341 (1997). See also Deal v. United States,508 U. S. 129,132 (1993) (it's far a “fundamental precept of statutory production (and, certainly, of language itself) that the meaning of a word can not be determined in isolation, but ought to be drawn from the context wherein it's far used”). Ordinarily, a phrase’s usage accords with its dictionary definition. In regulation as in lifestyles, but, the identical words, placed in special contexts, sometimes suggest various things.
We have several instances affirmed that identical language might also deliver various content material when utilized in one of a kind statutes, once in a while even in specific provisions of the equal statute. See, e.g., FAA v. Cooper, 566 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2012), (slip op., at 6–7) (“real damages” has exclusive meanings in exceptional statutes); Wachovia Bank, N. A. v. Schmidt,546 U. S. 303–314 (2006) (“located” has different meanings in specific provisions of the National Bank Act); General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline,540 U. S. 581–597 (2004) (“age” has exceptional meanings in different provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967); United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co.,532 U. S. two hundred,213 (2001) (“wages paid” has one of a kind meanings in exceptional provisions of Title 26 U. S. C.); Robinson, 519 U. S., at 342–344 (“worker” has different meanings in unique sections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson,478 U. S. 804–808 (1986) (“bobbing up under” has unique meanings in U. S. Const., Art. III, §2, and28 U. S. C. §1331); District of Columbia v. Carter,409 U. S. 418–421 (1973) (“State or Territory” has one-of-a-kind meanings in42 U. S. C. §1982 and §1983); Atlantic Cleaners & Dyers, Inc. v. United States,286 U. S. 427–437 (1932) (“exchange or trade” has different meanings in one-of-a-kind sections of the Sherman Act). As the Court observed in Atlantic Cleaners & Dyers, 286 U. S., at 433:
“Most words have extraordinary shades of meaning and therefore can be variously construed . . . . Where the issue matter to which the phrases refer is not the same in the numerous locations in which [the words] are used, or the situations are different, or the scope of the legislative strength exercised in a single case is broader than that exercised in some other, the which means well may additionally vary to meet the functions of the law, to be arrived at by a attention of the language in which the ones functions are expressed, and of the occasions below which the language became employed.”
In brief, despite the fact that dictionary definitions of the words “tangible” and “item” undergo consideration, they're now not dispositive of the meaning of “tangible object” in §1519.
Supporting a analyzing of “tangible object,” as utilized in §1519, in accord with dictionary definitions, the Government points to the advent of that term in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16. That Rule requires the prosecution to grant a defendant’s request to look into “tangible gadgets” in the Government’s control that have application for the defense. See Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 16(a)(1)(E).
Rule 16’s connection with “tangible items” has been interpreted to include any bodily proof. See five W. LaFave, J. Israel, N. King, & O. Kerr, Criminal Procedure §20.three(g), pp. 405–406, and n. a hundred and twenty (3d ed. 2007). Rule 16 is a discovery rule designed to guard defendants via compelling the prosecution to turn over to the protection proof cloth to the fees at trouble. In that context, a comprehensive production of “tangible objects” is becoming. In evaluation, §1519 is a penal provision that refers to “tangible item” now not in relation to a request for records applicable to a selected court intending, however rather when it comes to federal investigations or proceedings of each type, along with those no longer but begun.[three] See Commissioner v. National Carbide Corp., 167 F. 2nd 304, 306 (CA2 1948) (Hand, J.) (“phrases are chameleons, which reflect the coloration in their surroundings”). Just as the context of Rule 16 supports giving “tangible item” a which means as broad as its dictionary definition, the context of §1519 tugs strongly in choose of a narrower analyzing.
Familiar interpretive publications useful resource our production of the phrases “tangible object” as they seem in §1519.
We be aware first §1519’s caption: “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of facts in Federal investigations and financial ruin.” That heading conveys no concept that the phase prohibits spoliation of any and all bodily proof, but far off from statistics. Neither does the name of the segment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in which §1519 changed into placed, §802: “Criminal consequences for changing documents.”116Stat.800. Furthermore, §1520, the only different provision surpassed as a part of §802, is titled “Destruction of corporate audit facts” and addresses handiest that precise subset of facts and files. While these headings aren't commanding, they supply cues that Congress did no longer intend “tangible item” in §1519 to brush within its attain bodily items of every kind, which includes things no one would describe as records, documents, or devices closely associated with them. SeeAlmendarez-Torres v. United States,523 U. S. 224,234 (1998) (“[T]he name of a statute and the heading of a section are equipment to be had for the decision of a doubt approximately the which means of a statute.” (internal citation marks not noted)). If Congress certainly supposed to make §1519 an all-encompassing ban at the spoliation of proof, because the dissent believes Congress did, one might have predicted a clearer indication of that motive.
Section 1519’s role within Chapter seventy three of Title 18 similarly signals that §1519 turned into no longer supposed to function a pass-the-board ban at the destruction of bodily evidence of each kind. Congress located §1519 (and its companion provision §1520) on the give up of the chapter, following immediately after the pre-existing §1516, §1517, and §1518, every of them prohibiting obstructive acts in specific contexts. See §1516 (audits of recipients of federal funds); §1517 (federal examinations of financial establishments); §1518 (criminal investigations of federal health care offenses). See additionally S. Rep. No. 107–146, at 7 (gazing that §1517 and §1518 “practice to obstruction in certain confined styles of cases, inclusive of financial disaster fraud, examinations of monetary institutions, and healthcare fraud”).
But Congress did now not direct codification of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s other additions to Chapter seventy three adjoining to those specialized provisions. Instead, Congress directed placement of those additions inside or along retained provisions that address obstructive acts concerning extensively to legit lawsuits and criminal trials: Section 806, “Civil Action to shield towards retaliation in fraud instances,” changed into codified as §1514A and inserted between the pre-present §1514, which addresses civil movements to restrain harassment of sufferers and witnesses in crook instances, and §1515, which defines terms utilized in §1512 and §1513. Section 1102, “Tampering with a record or otherwise impeding an reliable proceeding,” turned into codified as §1512(c) and inserted in the pre-current §1512, which addresses tampering with a sufferer, witness, or informant to obstruct any professional intending. Section 1107, “Retaliation towards informants,” become codified as §1513(e) and inserted within the pre-existing §1513, which addresses retaliation against a victim, witness, or informant in any respectable intending. Congress accordingly ranked §1519, now not a few of the large proscriptions, however collectively with specialized provisions expressly aimed at corporate fraud and economic audits. This placement accords with the view that Congress’ concept of §1519’s coverage became significantly extra restricted than the Government’s.[four]
The contemporaneous passage of §1512(c)(1), which was contained in a segment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act discrete from the section embracing §1519 and §1520, is also instructive. Section 1512(c)(1) offers:
“(c) Whoever corruptly—
“(1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or different object, or attempts to do so, with the cause to impair the item’s integrity or availability to be used in an official intending
. . . . .
“will be fined below this identify or imprisoned not extra than two decades, or both.”
The legislative records well-knownshows that §1512(c)(1) become drafted and proposed after §1519. See 148 Cong. Rec. 12518, 13088–13089 (2002). The Government argues, and Yates does not dispute, that §1512(c)(1)’s reference to “other object” includes any and each physical object. But if §1519’s connection with “tangible item” already protected all bodily objects, as the Government and the dissent contend, then Congress had no purpose to enact §1512(c)(1): Virtually any act that could violate §1512(c)(1) no doubt would violate §1519 as nicely, for §1519 applies to “the investigation or proper management of any depend within the jurisdiction of any branch or business enterprise of the United States . . . or in terms of or contemplation of this type of count,” not simply to “an legit proceeding.”
The Government acknowledges that, below its analyzing, §1519 and §1512(c)(1) “drastically overlap.” Brief for United States 49. Nowhere does the Government give an explanation for what independent function §1512(c)(1) would serve if the Government is proper approximately the sweeping scope of §1519. We face up to a analyzing of §1519 that could render superfluous a whole provision surpassed in proximity as a part of the identical Act. See Marx v. General Revenue Corp., 568 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 14) (“[T]he canon against surplusage is strongest whilst an interpretation might render superfluous any other part of the same statutory scheme.”).
The words right away surrounding “tangible object” in §1519—“falsifies, or makes a fake entry in any file [or] report”—also cabin the contextual which means of that term. As explained in Gustafson v. Alloyd Co.,513 U. S. 561,575 (1995), we rely at the principle of noscitur a sociis—a word is thought with the aid of the company it keeps—to “keep away from ascribing to 1 word a meaning so extensive that it is inconsistent with its accompanying words, as a result giving unintentional breadth to the Acts of Congress.” (inner quotation marks overlooked). See additionally United States v. Williams,553 U. S. 285,294 (2008) (“a phrase is given greater specific content material via the neighboring phrases with which it's miles related”). In Gustafson, we interpreted the phrase “communication” in §2(10) of the Securities Act of 1933 to refer to a public communique, rather than any conversation, because the word regarded in a listing with other phrases, significantly “word, circular, [and] advertisement,” making it “apparent that the listing refer[red] to files of huge dissemination.” 513 U. S., at 575–576. And we did so despite the fact that the listing started with the word “any.”
The noscitur a sociis canon operates in a similar manner right here. “Tangible object” is the last in a list of phrases that starts “any document [or] file.” The time period is therefore appropriately study to refer, not to any tangible item, however specially to the subset of tangible objects related to information and files, i.e., items used to report or hold information. See United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual §2J1.2, comment., n. 1 (Nov. 2014) (“ ‘Records, documents, or tangible objects’ includes (A) statistics, documents, or tangible objects which might be saved on, or which can be, magnetic, optical, virtual, other electronic, or different garage mediums or devices; and (B) twine or digital communications.”).
This moderate interpretation of “tangible item” accords with the listing of actions §1519 proscribes. The section applies to each person who “alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a fake access in any document, file, or tangible item” with the considered necessary obstructive cause. (Emphasis introduced.) The ultimate verbs, “falsif[y]” and “mak[e] a fake access in,” usually take as grammatical objects information, files, or matters used to report or maintain records, which includes logbooks or hard drives. See, e.g., Black’s Law Dictionary 720 (tenth ed. 2014) (defining “falsify” as “[t]o make deceptive; to counterfeit, forge, or misrepresent; esp., to tamper with (a record, record, and many others.)”). It would be unnatural, as an instance, to explain a killer’s act of wiping his fingerprints from a gun as “falsifying” the homicide weapon. But it would no longer be ordinary to refer to “falsifying” records stored on a difficult power as honestly “falsifying” a tough pressure. Furthermore, Congress did no longer include on §1512(c)(1)’s listing of prohibited moves “falsifies” or “makes a fake access in.” See §1512(c)(1) (making it unlawful to “alte[r], destro[y], mutilat[e], or concea[l] a record, document, or other object” with the needful obstructive reason). That contemporaneous omission additionally shows that Congress intended “tangible object” in §1519 to have a narrower scope than “different object” in §1512(c)(1).
A canon related to noscitur a sociis, ejusdem generis, counsels: “Where widespread phrases comply with particular words in a statutory enumeration, the general words are [usually] construed to embody only gadgets comparable in nature to the ones gadgets enumerated by means of the preceding unique words.” Washington State Dept. of Social and Health Servs. v. Guardianship Estate of Keffeler,537 U. S. 371,384 (2003) (internal quotation marks overlooked). In Begay v. United States,553 U. S. 137–143 (2008), as an instance, we relied on this principle to determine what crimes had been protected by means of the statutory word “any crime . . . that . . . is burglary, arson, or extortion, entails use of explosives, or in any other case involves behavior that gives a critical capacity hazard of bodily harm to another,”18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)(ii). The enumeration of unique crimes, we explained, indicates that the “otherwise involves” provision covers “best similar crimes, in preference to each crime that ‘provides a serious capability hazard of physical harm to every other.’ ” 553 U. S., at 142. Had Congress intended the latter “all encompassing” that means, we determined, “it is difficult to peer why it would have had to consist of the examples in any respect.” Ibid. See additionally CSX Transp., Inc. v. Alabama Dept. of Revenue,562 U. S. 277, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 16) (“We typically use ejusdem generis to make certain that a trendy phrase will no longer render precise phrases meaningless.”). Just so here. Had Congress intended “tangible object” in §1519 to be interpreted so generically as to capture bodily gadgets as distinct as documents and fish, Congress could have had no motive to refer specially to “document” or “record.” The Government’s unbounded reading of “tangible item” could render those words misleading surplusage.
Having used traditional tools of statutory interpretation to look at markers of congressional motive in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and §1519 itself, we are persuaded that an competitive interpretation of “tangible item” ought to be rejected. It is tremendously implausible that Congress could have buried a widespread spoliation statute overlaying items of any and every kind in a provision concentrated on fraud in financial record-keeping.
The Government argues, but, that our inquiry would be incomplete if we didn't don't forget the origins of the word “record, report, or tangible item.” Congress drew that phrase, the Government says, from a 1962 Model Penal Code (MPC) provision, and reform proposals based on that provision. The MPC provision and suggestions prompted by way of it'd have imposed legal responsibility on all of us who “alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, or eliminates a record, document or factor.” See ALI, MPC §241.7(1), p. 175 (1962). Those proscriptions were understood to refer to all bodily evidence. See MPC §241.7, Comment 3, at 179 (1980) (provision “applies to any physical item”). Accordingly, the Government reasons, and the dissent exuberantly has the same opinion, post, at 4–five, Congress have to have intended §1519 to use to the universe of physical evidence.
The inference is unwarranted. True, the 1962 MPC provision prohibited tampering with any kind of physical evidence. But in contrast to §1519, the MPC provision did not restrict actions that specifically relate to records, documents, and items used to report or keep data. The MPC provision also ranked the offense as a misdemeanor and constrained liability to times wherein the actor “believ[es] that an reputable intending or investigation is pending or approximately to be instituted.” MPC §241.7(1), at a hundred seventy five. Yates might have had scant purpose to count on a legal prosecution, and genuinely not one instituted at a time when even the smallest of the fish he caught got here inside the prison restriction. See supra, at 4; cf. Bond v. United States, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014), (slip op., at 14) (rejecting “boundless reading” of a statutory time period given “deeply severe outcomes” that studying might entail). A proposed federal offense in keeping with the MPC provision, superior by a federal fee in 1971, was in addition qualified. See Final Report of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws §1323, pp. 116–117 (1971).
Section 1519 conspicuously lacks the limits constructed into the MPC provision and the federal concept. It describes now not a misdemeanor, but a prison punishable with the aid of up to 20 years in jail. And the phase covers conduct meant to obstruct any federal investigation or intending, together with one now not even at the verge of graduation. Given these enormous differences, the meaning of “file, report, or element” inside the MPC provision and a kindred idea isn't always a dependable indicator of the that means Congress assigned to “report, file, or tangible object” in §1519. The MPC provision, in quick, tells us neither “what Congress wrote [nor] what Congress wanted,” cf. submit, at 15, regarding Yates’s small fish as the concern of a federal criminal prosecution.
Finally, if our recourse to traditional equipment of statutory construction leaves any doubt approximately the that means of “tangible object,” as that time period is utilized in §1519, we would invoke the guideline that “ambiguity regarding the ambit of crook statutes ought to be resolved in want of lenity.” Cleveland v. United States,531 U. S. 12,25 (2000) (quoting Rewis v. United States,401 U. S. 808,812 (1971)). That interpretative precept is applicable right here, wherein the Government urges a analyzing of §1519 that exposes people to twenty-year jail sentences for tampering with any physical object that may have evidentiary value in any federal research into any offense, no matter whether or not the research is pending or merely contemplated, or whether or not the offense situation to investigation is criminal or civil. See Liparota v. United States,471 U. S. 419,427 (1985) (“Application of the rule of thumb of lenity ensures that crook statutes will offer truthful caution concerning conduct rendered illegal and moves the ideal balance between the legislature, the prosecutor, and the courtroom in defining criminal liability.”). In figuring out the that means of “tangible item” in §1519, “it's miles appropriate, before we pick out the harsher opportunity, to require that Congress have to have spoken in language this is clean and exact.” See Cleveland, 531 U. S., at 25 (quoting United States v. Universal C. I. T. Credit Corp.,344 U. S. 218,222 (1952)). See additionally Jones v. United States,529 U. S. 848–859 (2000) (rule of lenity “reinforces” the belief that arson of an owner-occupied house isn't always problem to federal prosecution under18 U. S. C. §844(i) because this kind of residence does no longer qualify as belongings “used in” commerce or commerce-affecting hobby).
* * *
For the reasons said, we resist reading §1519 expansively to create a coverall spoliation of proof statute, beneficial as this kind of degree might be. Leaving that critical selection to Congress, we keep that a “tangible object” within §1519’s compass is one used to record or keep facts. The judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is consequently reversed, and the case is remanded for in addition proceedings.
It is so ordered.