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United States v. Suerte

291 F.3d 366 (2002)

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United States v. Suerte

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

291 F.3d 366 (2002)

Facts

Nestor Suerte (defendant), captain of a ship registered in Malta, was involved with a Colombian and Venezuelan drug-trafficking organization (DTO). The United States (plaintiff) requested permission from Malta to investigate Suerte’s ship, and Malta waived objection to the United States enforcing its laws over Suerte. The United States Customs special agents then conducted a search, which revealed information referencing the date, time, and location of a cocaine pickup and $35,000. Suerte was arrested and indicted for violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), under which it is unlawful to board a vessel subject to the United States’ jurisdiction with an intent to distribute a controlled substance. The MDLEA further provided that a vessel was subject to the United States’ jurisdiction if the vessel was registered in a foreign nation and the foreign nation waived objection to the United States enforcing its own laws. Suerte challenged the application of the MDLEA against him, arguing that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution required a nexus between the foreign citizen and the United States. The district court agreed and dismissed the case on the ground that the United States lacked jurisdiction. The matter was appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Barksdale, J.)

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