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United States v. Epskamp

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
832 F.3d 154 (2016)


Facts

The United States government (plaintiff) prosecuted Nicolas Epskamp (defendant), a Dutch citizen, for violating 21 U.S.C. § 959(b), which made it illegal for "any United States citizen on board any aircraft, or any person on board an aircraft owned by a United States citizen or registered in the United States, to . . . (2) possess a controlled substance... with intent to distribute . . . ." The federal district court trial evidence revolved around a Lebanese citizen's scheme to smuggle Colombian cocaine aboard a flight from the Dominican Republic to Belgium. The scheme called for Epskamp and a British citizen to board a chartered Dominican airplane and act as couriers to escort 20 cocaine-laden suitcases during the flight. Dominican police searched the plane, and although the plane was still unloaded and the police found nothing, the couriers decided it would be safer to charter another aircraft. The couriers chartered the new plane from an American company, which promptly notified American authorities of the impending flight. To further deceive the Dominican police, the couriers bribed a Dominican official and filed a false flight plan listing their destination as Africa rather than Belgium. The new plane bore an "N" registration number on its tail, indicating that it was registered in the United States. Despite the couriers' efforts to deceive the authorities, Dominican immigration officials arrested the couriers when they boarded the plane. The jury convicted Epskamp. On appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Epskamp contended that a federal court had no jurisdiction to try him under § 959(b), because there was insufficient evidence to prove that he knew when boarding the chartered plane that it was registered in the United States.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Straub, J.)

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