837 F.3d 1182 (11th Cir. 2016), 14-13754, United States v. Cruickshank

Docket Nº:14-13754
Citation:837 F.3d 1182, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 813
Opinion Judge:MARCUS, J.
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. CARLINGTON CRUICKSHANK, Defendant - Appellant
Attorney:For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee: Roberta Josephina Bodnar, U.S. Attorney's Office, ORLANDO, FL; Arthur Lee Bentley, III, Joseph K. Ruddy, U.S. Attorney's Office, TAMPA, FL. For CARLINGTON CRUICKSHANK, Defendant - Appellant: Tracy N. DaCruz, The DaCruz Law Firm, PLLC, ORLANDO, F...
Judge Panel:Before MARCUS and WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and DAVIS,[*] District Judge.
Case Date:September 20, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
SUMMARY

Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while aboard a vessel, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 960(b)(1)(B)(ii) and 46 U.S.C. 70503(a), 70506(a) and (b), and one count of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while aboard a vessel, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2, 21 U.S.C. 960(b)(1)(B)(... (see full summary)

 
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837 F.3d 1182 (11th Cir. 2016)

26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 813

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

CARLINGTON CRUICKSHANK, Defendant - Appellant

No. 14-13754

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 20, 2016

Page 1183

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 8:14-cr-00055-SDM-EAJ-1.

AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED AND REMANDED IN PART.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee: Roberta Josephina Bodnar, U.S. Attorney's Office, ORLANDO, FL; Arthur Lee Bentley, III, Joseph K. Ruddy, U.S. Attorney's Office, TAMPA, FL.

For CARLINGTON CRUICKSHANK, Defendant - Appellant: Tracy N. DaCruz, The DaCruz Law Firm, PLLC, ORLANDO, FL; Jenny L. Devine, Mara Allison Guagliardo, Federal Public Defender's Office, TAMPA, FL; Rosemary Cakmis, Donna Lee Elm, Federal Public Defender's Office, ORLANDO, FL.

Before MARCUS and WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and DAVIS,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

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MARCUS, J.

On February 11, 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard recovered 171 kilograms of cocaine from a vessel known as the " Venus" in international waters in the Caribbean Sea. Carlington Cruickshank, one of two men aboard the vessel, was later convicted and sentenced to 324 months' imprisonment for one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more

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of cocaine while aboard a vessel, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(1)(B)(ii) and 46 U.S.C. § § 70503(a), 70506(a) and (b), and one count of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while aboard a vessel, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2, 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(1)(B)(ii), and 46 U.S.C. § § 70503(a), 70506(a). On appeal, Cruickshank argues that: (1) jurisdiction did not exist to prosecute him under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (" MDLEA" ) and, moreover, the MDLEA is unconstitutional; (2) the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence of mens rea; (3) the district court erred by establishing jurisdiction under the MDLEA by relying on a United States Department of State certification, and by removing from the jury the factual question concerning jurisdiction; and (4) the district court clearly erred in denying him a minor-role reduction under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(b). After careful review of the parties' briefs and the record, and having had the benefit of oral argument, we affirm in part, and vacate and remand in part.

I.

First, we reject Cruickshank's claims that jurisdiction did not exist to prosecute him under the MDLEA and that the MDLEA is unconstitutional. We review a district court's interpretation and application of a statute concerning its subject-matter jurisdiction de novo, but we review factual findings with respect to jurisdiction for clear error. United States v. Campbell, 743 F.3d 802, 805 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 704, 190 L.Ed.2d 438 (2014). We review the legal question of whether a statute is constitutional and constitutional objections de novo. Id. Under our prior precedent rule, we are bound to follow a prior binding precedent unless and until it is overruled by us sitting en banc or by the Supreme Court. United States v. Vega-Castillo, 540 F.3d 1235, 1236 (11th Cir. 2008).

The MDLEA prohibits knowingly or intentionally possessing a controlled substance, with the intent to distribute, onboard any vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. 46 U.S.C. § 70503(a)(1) (" While on board a covered vessel, an individual may not knowingly or intentionally . . . possess with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance." ). It was enacted under Congress's authority provided by the Felonies Clause, U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 10, to define and punish felonies committed on the high seas. Campbell, 743 F.3d at 805. Pursuant to the MDLEA, " a vessel without nationality" is " subject to the jurisdiction of the United States" and it defines a stateless vessel as including " a vessel aboard which the master or individual in charge makes a claim of registry that is denied by the nation whose registry is claimed." 46 U.S.C. § 70502(c)(1)(A), (d)(1)(A).

In Campbell, the United States Coast Guard had intercepted the defendant while aboard a vessel in the international waters off the eastern coast of Jamaica. 743 F.3d at 804. The vessel lacked all indicia of nationality: it displayed no flag, port, or registration number. Id. Although one of the individuals aboard the vessel claimed it was registered in Haiti, the government of Haiti told the Coast Guard that it could neither confirm nor deny the registry. Id. Campbell, the defendant, argued that Congress had exceeded its authority under the Felonies Clause of the Constitution when it enacted the MDLEA. We disagreed, recognizing that " we have always upheld extraterritorial convictions under our drug trafficking laws as an exercise of power under the Felonies Clause."

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Id. at 809-10. As we explained, a criminal act does not need a nexus to the United States in order to be criminalized under the MDLEA " because universal and protective principles support its extraterritorial reach." Id. at 810. In other words, because the Felonies Clause empowers Congress to punish crimes committed on the high seas, and because " the trafficking of narcotics is condemned universally by law-abiding nations," we rejected the argument " that it is fundamentally unfair for Congress to provide for the punishment of persons apprehended with narcotics on the high seas." Id. (quotations omitted). This is especially true, we explained, when vessels on the high seas " are engaged in conduct that has a potentially adverse effect and is generally recognized as a crime by nations that have reasonably developed legal systems." Id. (quotations omitted).

We also explained in Campbell that the " Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the trial and conviction of an alien captured on the high seas while drug trafficking." Id. at 812 (citing United States v. Rendon, 354 F.3d 1320, 1326 (11th Cir. 2003)). In our view, the MDLEA " provides clear notice that all nations prohibit and condemn drug trafficking aboard stateless vessels on the high seas." Id.

In this case, all of Cruickshank's arguments concerning the MDLEA are foreclosed by our prior precedent. In Campbell, we reaffirmed that Congress did not exceed its authority by enacting the MDLEA; we determined that no jurisdictional nexus was required under the MDLEA; and we concluded that convictions under the MDLEA do not violate the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. See id. at 809-10, 812. Because we are bound by our prior precedent concerning all of Cruickshank's challenges to the MDLEA, his arguments necessarily fail.

II.

We are also unpersuaded by Cruickshank's claim that the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence of mens rea. We review de novo whether sufficient evidence supports a conviction, drawing all reasonable factual inferences from the evidence in favor of the verdict. United States v. Beckles, 565 F.3d 832, 840 (11th Cir. 2009). Evidence is sufficient if a reasonable trier of fact could have found that it established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. In rebutting the government's evidence, a defendant must do more than put forth a reasonable hypothesis of innocence, because the issue is whether a reasonable jury could have convicted, not whether a conviction was the only reasonable result. Id. at 840-41.

To establish a conspiracy, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more persons entered into an unlawful agreement to commit an offense, that the defendant knew of the agreement, and that he voluntarily became a part of the conspiracy. United States v. Tinoco, 304 F.3d 1088, 1122 (11th Cir. 2002); United States v. Alvarez, 837 F.2d 1024, 1027 (11th Cir. 1988). The defendant's presence on a vessel, though...

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