A Submarine and the Crew / Defendants Are Sunk after this recent ruling from the Eleventh Circuit. Years ago my friends Steve Crawford, Michael Maddux, Ken Siegel, and I litigated the first case where thousands of pounds of Cocaine were found in the Pacific Ocean near the Galapagos Islands. We were quit troubled that the submarine was destroyed and the crew were brought to Tampa’a Middle District of Florida Federal Courthouse.
The Complete Opinion is Here for a Free Download:
Here is Tip From One of Our friends at the Federal Public Defender’s Office:
“In this second published decision in as many days addressing the semi-submersible statute, the Eleventh Circuit once again rules that in enacting the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2285, Congress did not exceed its power under the High Seas Clause of the Constitution. Today s panel, however, disagrees with the rationale employed by yesterday s panel (without mentioning yesterday s decision). Yesterday s panel, in United States v. Valencia, 09-14204, relied on the international law principles on which it had previously relied in addressing the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act to conclude that Congress acted properly within its constitutional authority under the High Seas Clause in passing the DTVIA.
Today’s panel, however, held that those international law principles only apply to laws that govern the conduct of flagged vessels, and have no applicability to the stateless vessels governed by the DTVIA, because such vessels are international pariahs that have no internationally recognized right to navigate freely on the high seas.
Because the defendants in today s case did not plead guilty but were convicted following a bench trial before Judge Lazzara, the Eleventh Circuit was also required to address other constitutional challenges found waived by defendant s guilty pleas in yesterday’s case.
The Court found that the statute was not void for vagueness as applied to defendants.
The Court also upheld the statute against a procedural due process challenge, rejecting defendants argument that the DTVIA places the burden on them to prove that they are not trafficking drugs. The Court held that even if appellants proved that they were not trafficking drugs, they would still be guilty of violating the DTVIA if the government proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the elements of the crime. Because the DTVIA does not shift the burden of proof to the accused as to any element of the crime, the Court wrote, but rather creates a wholly new crime that Congress is within its right to define, the Due Process Clause is not violated.
The Court also summarily rejected appellants argument that the DTVIA violates their substantive due process rights because it is not rationally related to any legitimate government interest.
The Court further found that appellants were not punished in violation of the double jeopardy clause, noting that the Federal Government s has a long history of charging and convicting defendants of both conspiracies and substantive offenses, that the legislative history of DTVIA makes no mention of a desire to make each offense in that section exclusive, and that the DTVIA specifically provides for both a conspiracy charge and a substantive offense.
Moving from constitutional issues to one of statutory construction, appellants argued that the statutory phrases navigating . . . through, or from waters beyond the outer limit of the territorial sea of a single country or a lateral limit of that country s territorial sea with an adjacent country and without nationality are elements of the crime which must be proved by the government beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the government must prove scienter with respect to these elements.
The Court held that the phrase beginning navigating . . . through, or from waters is solely jurisdictional and does not bear on culpability, and thus need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt nor proven with scienter. It determined that it need not address whether the without nationality element bears solely on jurisdiction or on jurisdiction and culpability, because it concluded from the record that there was ample evidence that Appellants knew the Vessel was not registered in Columbia and any error would be harmless.”
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