United States v. Carvajal

Decision Date20 February 2013
Docket Number5) (RMC).,Criminal Action No. 10–106 (-2
Citation924 F.Supp.2d 219
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. Francisco Jose Valderrama CARVAJAL and Luis Alberto Munoz Miranda, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Paul Warren Laymon, Jr., Carmen D. Colon, Meredith A. Mills, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for United States of America.

Elita C. Amato, Law Office of Elita C. Amato, Esq., Arlington, VA, Ron Earnest, Takoma Park, MD, for Defendants.

OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, District Judge.

+-----------------------------------+
                ¦I.¦FACTS                       ¦225¦
                +-----------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦A.  ¦Procedural History                                        ¦225    ¦
                +----+----+----------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦B.  ¦The Drug Trafficking Organization and Planned November    ¦226    ¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦2006 Loads                                                ¦       ¦
                +----+----+----------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦C.  ¦Caribbean Maritime Geography                              ¦228    ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+-------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦                                                       ¦      ¦
                +----+-------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦II. ¦LEGAL STANDARD                                         ¦229   ¦
                +----+-------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦                                                       ¦      ¦
                +----+-------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦III.¦ANALYSIS                                               ¦230   ¦
                +-------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------+
                ¦  ¦A.¦Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act¦231 ¦
                +--------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦   ¦1.¦1980s Enactment and Legislative History¦231  ¦
                +---+---+--+---------------------------------------+-----¦
                ¦   ¦   ¦2.¦1986 Version                           ¦232  ¦
                +---+---+--+---------------------------------------+-----¦
                ¦   ¦   ¦3.¦Present Version                        ¦232  ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦B. ¦Maritime Definitional Issues                   ¦233  ¦
                +----+---+-----------------------------------------------+-----¦
                ¦    ¦C. ¦Factual Issues—Statelessness & High Seas Travel¦234  ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦   ¦1.¦Statelessness of Vessel             ¦235 ¦
                +---+---+--+------------------------------------+----¦
                ¦   ¦   ¦2.¦Travel through the High Seas        ¦237 ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦D.¦Statutory Subject Matter Jurisdiction ¦239 ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦    ¦1. ¦Extraterritorial Application                         ¦239   ¦
                +----+----+---+-----------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦2. ¦Charming Betsy                                       ¦240   ¦
                +----+----+---+-----------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦3. ¦Whether MDLEA Requires Conspiring “On Board” a Vessel¦243   ¦
                +----+----+---+-----------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦4. ¦Whether MDLEA Requires a Nexus to the United States  ¦245   ¦
                +----+----+---+-----------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦5. ¦Whether Colombia's Consent Was Required              ¦246   ¦
                +----+----+---+-----------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦6. ¦Conclusion                                           ¦248   ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+--------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦E.¦Constitutionality of MDLEA as Applied ¦249 ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦    ¦1. ¦Legal Standard—Constitutionality                      ¦249    ¦
                +----+----+---+------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦2. ¦The Treaty Power                                      ¦250    ¦
                +----+----+---+------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦   ¦Article I, Section 8, Clause 10: The Power. . .To     ¦       ¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦3. ¦define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on  ¦251    ¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦   ¦the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations¦       ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+------------------------------------------+
                ¦  ¦F.¦Due Process                    ¦261 ¦
                +------------------------------------------+
                
+---------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦                                          ¦    ¦
                +---+------------------------------------------+----¦
                ¦IV.¦CONCLUSION                                ¦264 ¦
                +---------------------------------------------------+
                

This prosecution under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) is a product of the escalation of a battle. On one side are international drug traffickers, who constantly refine their methods for transporting illegal narcotics from country to country. On the other side is law enforcement, which must adapt its efforts to halt the illicit drug trade, a task made all the more difficult in an increasingly globalized world. In this case, the United States seeks to hold drug traffickers criminally responsible in circumstances not previously addressed by the courts.

This case may be at the outskirts of Congress's power to criminalize extraterritorial conduct. The two Defendants, Luis Alberto Munoz Miranda and Francisco Jose Valderrama Carvajal, were Colombian-based members of an international drug trafficking conspiracy. They admitted involvement in a conspiracy to use vessels with no registration and nationality, commonly referred to as “stateless vessels,” to transport cocaine from Colombia to a rendezvous point in the seas near Honduras. Two stateless vessels are involved in this case. One never left the dock; the other was seized by the Colombian Navy after traveling a significant distance at sea. The latter vessel was captured after it ran aground on an island that belongs to Colombia, so it was seized by Colombian authorities in Colombian territorial waters. The United States, prosecuting through the Department of Justice, does not claim that it can show that the cocaine recovered from the captured vessel was destined for this country, and it concedes that Messrs. Munoz Miranda and Valderrama Carvajal never left the terra firma of Colombia at any relevant point prior to being extradited to the United States years after the stateless vessel and its crew were seized and prosecuted by Colombia.

Defendants contest the constitutionality of applying MDLEA to foreign citizens, acting in a foreign country, who never set foot on a vessel transporting narcotics. Many cases have upheld MDLEA as a valid exercise of congressional power and have denied due process challenges, but with varying analyses. Few cases have involved prosecutions deriving from vessels seized in a foreign country's territorial waters, whether those vessels were registered in a foreign country or were stateless. Equally rare are MDLEA prosecutions of individuals whose personal involvement took place exclusively within a foreign country's territory. This case fits both of those categories, which the Court understands to be a factually unprecedented scenario.

The Court must determine whether this prosecution is constitutional. While it may be a close question, it is one the Court resolves in DOJ's favor.

I. FACTS
A. Procedural History

Along with three other co-defendants,1 Messrs. Munoz Miranda and Valderrama Carvajal were charged by Indictment filed April 23, 2010 with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States in violation of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), 46 U.S.C. §§ 70503, 70506(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. See Indictment [Dkt. 3]. DOJ filed a Superseding Indictment on August 25, 2010, containing the same charge. See Superseding Indictment [Dkt. 6]. Bench warrants were issued for all Defendants. Messrs. Munoz Miranda and Valderrama Carvajal were arrested in Colombia by the Colombian national police on May 12, 2011 and extradited to the United States. See Extradition Orders, Dkt. 60, Ex. E [Dkt. 60–5]. Mr. Munoz Miranda made his initial appearance before a magistrate judge on February 27, 2012, and Mr. Valderrama Carvajal made his first appearance on April 20, 2012.

Both Defendants filed numerous motions prior to their scheduled October 15, 2012, trial date, raising various arguments against MDLEA's constitutionality and as to whether MDLEA encompasses the allegations made in this case.2 Both DOJ and the Defendants filed numerous briefs, and the Court held a motions hearing on October 11, 2012 to address the arguments advanced by Messrs. Munoz Miranda and Valderrama Carvajal.

By agreement of all parties, DOJ proceeded by evidentiary proffer and the Court heard oral arguments only. After extensive and articulate debate from Defendants' counsel and DOJ, the Court denied the motions to dismiss. Although it noted that the motions presented close questions on which courts had written little, the Court held that MDLEA could be constitutionally applied to...

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18 cases
  • United States v. Dávila-Reyes
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • January 20, 2022
    ...there is a consensus that "high seas" denotes areas outside any country's territorial waters. See, e.g., United States v. Carvajal, 924 F. Supp. 2d 219, 234 (D.D.C. 2013), aff'd sub nom. United States v. Miranda, 780 F.3d 1185 (D.C. Cir. 2015).11 Elsewhere, the Aybar-Ulloa concurrence notes......
  • United States v. Mosquera-Murillo, Criminal Action No. 13–cr–134
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    • December 14, 2015
    ...under United States law of conspiratorial efforts to launch shipments in violation of the MDLEA. See United States v. Carvajal, 924 F.Supp.2d 219, 220 (D.D.C.2013) aff'd sub nom. United States v. Miranda, 780 F.3d 1185 (D.C.Cir.2015) ; see also 153 F.Supp.3d 163 United States v. Price, 265 ......
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • February 28, 2018
    ...law enacted by Congress must be based on one or more of its powers enumerated in the Constitution."); see also United States v. Carvajal , 924 F.Supp.2d 219, 249 (D.D.C. 2013) ("Because the powers of the legislature are defined and limited, every law enacted by Congress must be based on one......
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
    • May 30, 2018
    ...traffickers, who constantly refine their methods for transporting illegal narcotics from country to country." United States v. Carvajal, 924 F.Supp.2d 219, 224 (D.D.C. 2013). Congress enacted the MDLEA "to facilitate increased enforcement by the Coast Guard of laws relating to the importati......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The Charming Betsy Canon, American Legal Doctrine, and the Global Rule of Law.
    • United States
    • Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 53 No. 4, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...v. California, 509 U.S. 764, 815-17 (1993) (Scalia, J., delivering opinion in part; dissenting in part); United States v. Carvajal, 924 F. Supp. 2d 219, 241 (D.D.C. 2013); FTC v. Compagnie De Saint-Gobain-Pont-A-Mousson, 636 F.2d 1300, 1304 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (blending a Charming Betsy analys......

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