Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE-High Seas Statute Results in High Stakes Global Prosecution

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE-High Seas Statute Results in High Stakes Global Prosecution

Article excerpt

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE--High Seas Statute Results in High Stakes Global Prosecution--United States v. Cruickshank, 837 F.3d 1182 (11th Cir. 2016).

In the prosecution of criminal activity, the U.S. government traditionally focused its efforts on prosecuting individuals who carry out crimes with a nexus to the United States. (1) The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) creates a different standard for the prosecution of criminal activity on any vessel that has no country of origin. (2) In United States v. Cruickshank:, (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined whether, under the Felonies Clause, the MDLEA still requires a link between a criminal act and the United States. (4) The Court considered whether a statute with extraterritorial reach was warranted in order to combat global narcotics trafficking, which is universally condemned. (5)

On February 11, 2014, Carlington Cruickshank and one other individual were aboard a vessel traveling to Jamaica from Colombia. (6) When the vessel was less than (200) miles off the coast of Jamaica, a helicopter operated by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) saw the ship and ordered Cruickshank, along with his fellow passenger, to stop. (7) Instead of doing as instructed by the USCG, the individuals on the vessel began to throw unidentified packages overboard. (8) Following warning shots aimed at the ship, the USCG boarded the vessel and requested identification from the individuals operating the vessel, as well as the vessel's nation of registry. (9) Cruickshank claimed Jamaican citizenship and registry of the vessel, however when USCG contacted Jamaican authorities, they were unable to confirm the vessel's registry. (10) Ultimately the USCG found 171 kilograms of cocaine aboard the vessel. (11)

Mr. Cruickshank was arrested, brought to the United States, and charged with one count of conspiracy and one count possession with intent to distribute. (12) At trial, which began on May 21, 2014, the defense moved for a judgment of acquittal based on the government's failure to satisfy the mens rea element of the crime, as well as a motion claiming the court lacked jurisdiction. (13) Ultimately, the trial concluded with a jury decision rendering guilty verdicts on both counts. (14) The District Court then sentenced him to 324 months imprisonment, which Mr. Cruickshank appealed. (15) Mr. Cruickshank appeals on the District Court's failure to grant the motion for judgment of acquittal and the jurisdictional issue. (16)

Article I of the Constitution provides a detailed description of the powers, duties, and restrictions of Congress. (17) Section 8 of this article specifically discusses the powers Congress has in regards to piracies and felonies on the sea. (18) The Define and Punish Clause states that Congress has the power "to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations." (19) While there has been much debate over the actual meaning of this clause, the Supreme Court determined that the clause creates three powers. (20)

First, that Congress has the power to punish piracies. (21) Second, that Congress has the power to prosecute any felony committed on the high seas. (22) Finally, the clause grants Congress the power to punish any offense against the law of nations. (23)

Asserting the ability to do so under the powers delegated by the Define and Punish Clause, Congress enacted the MDLEA in 1903. (24) The enactment was based on findings by Congress which state that drug trafficking on ships, as well as the operation of unlicensed ships in general, is an international problem and a threat to the United States. (25) Based on this reasoning, the MDLEA states that any vessel "without nationality" is subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. (26) The statute defines a vessel lacking nationality as one which "the master or individual in charge makes a claim of registry that is denied by the nation whose registry is claimed. …

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