Why You Should Never Destroy Evidence

If you find yourself or your business in the middle of a lawsuit, the absolute last thing you should do is destroy evidence, such as documents and files, whether or not they are damaging or incriminating.  If you have been sued and you get rid of or destroy evidence, including emails, you may face severe penalties, including criminal ones.  An example of the many rules and laws that prohibit tampering with or destroying evidence is the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

In 2002, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. One of the Act’s provisions makes it a federal crime to destroy evidence, including documents, computer drives, and even emails. This provision was enacted in response to the type of conduct committed by Enron’s auditors, who destroyed anything with details about the energy company’s fraud on its investors.

The corporate-responsibility law was taken even further in 2012, when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a conviction of a fisherman who was charged with Sarbanes-Oxley violations when he threw some of his fish overboard.

This extreme example was appealed to and reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.  During oral argument, the Justices largely mocked the idea of applying the anti-shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to fish, but an opinion will not be handed down until summer 2015. In the midst of biting questions from the high Court, proponents of the argument still held that this section of the Act is a straightforward ban on destroying evidence.

Despite the humorous nature of this example, it is important to stress the gravity of tampering with and/or destroying evidence, as violators could face up to twenty years in prison under Sarbanes-Oxley, or other penalties under similar state laws.  Thus, it is important to always err on the side of caution, keeping all documents, emails, hard-drives, and so on to avoid potential violations.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law concerns.

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