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Stopping Drug Traffic on the High Seas - Jurisdiction Over Stateless Vessels Under 21 USC 955a

NCJ Number
Denver Journal of International Law and Policy Volume: 13 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1983) Pages: 109-116
L H Knowles
Date Published
8 pages
This article focuses on issues raised by recent court interpretations of section 955a of the Marijuana on the High Seas Act.
The issues are (1) courts' use of section 955a to obtain jurisdiction over stateless vessels suspected of transporting illegal drugs, (2) definitions of 'stateless vessels' in section 955a and how this affects the exercise of jurisdiction, and (3) the consequences of denying fourth amendment rights to persons aboard stateless vessels on the high seas. In the United States v. Marino-Garcia, the court rebutted the defendants' assertion that conviction under section 955a requires a showing of the vessel's connection to the United States. The court ruled that the vessel at issue was a 'stateless' vessel and that the United States has jurisdiction over all stateless vessels on the high seas. In United States v. Martinez, the court found that a stateless vessel is one which does not have a valid registration under the law of the country to which the vessel claims a nexus. In United States v. Knight, the court found that the vessel at issue was stateless because it had adopted various nationalities according to convenience. Under these decisions, the U.S. Coast Guard is boarding vessels on the high seas because of a suspicion they are stateless. Instead of focusing on the statelessness of a vessel, court rulings should focus on the vessel's activities vis-a-vis drug smuggling. Forty-seven footnotes are listed.