Skip to comments.'Piracy' at sea: Has definition changed? Supreme Court declines to enter fray.
Posted on 01/29/2013 6:03:44 PM PST by Pan_Yan
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand a series of lower-court opinions endorsing a broad view of what constitutes the crime of piracy a move that will make it significantly easier for the government to prosecute and convict suspected Somali pirates in federal court.
The high court turned aside an appeal by five Somali nationals convicted of firing shots from a small skiff at a US Navy frigate on patrol 600 miles off the coast of Somalia on April 1, 2010.
Lawyers for both groups of Somalis urged the Supreme Court to consider whether the Fourth Circuit was correct in permitting judges to embrace a broad definition of piracy that exceeds Congresss 1819 definition of robbery at sea.
The justices rejected both appeals without comment.
Mere firing of a weapon at a ship does not constitute piracy for purposes of the Piracy Statute, lawyers for the Somalis argued in their brief to the court.
Government prosecutors countered that the piracy statute was not limited to robbery at sea, but embraced a wide range of modern developments in international law.
Geremy Kamens, assistant federal public defender, said his clients face a draconian punishment of mandatory life in prison if convicted of piracy. But, he added, the case raised a more fundamental issue: whether US judges have the power to define elements of a federal crime based on their view of the state of modern international law.
Under the Constitutions separation of powers, federal courts lack authority to make laws, Mr. Kamens wrote.
If the justices allowed the Fourth Circuit opinion to stand, he warned, it would pave the way for judges to legislate based on evolving standards even if those standards did not exist at the time the criminal offense was enacted.
(Excerpt) Read more at csmonitor.com ...
I do not approve of courts rewriting laws, but firing guns at a ship at sea is fundamentally a part of the act of robbery. I would vote to convict a rapist of rape, even if he was arrested after stripping himself and an unwilling victim but prior to completing the act. I would vote to convict an arsonist of arson even if his fire was extinguished by a vigilant homeowner before it could damage the building. I would certainly vote to convict someone who shoots at another ship at sea, without provocation, of piracy. When the ship they choose to attack is a warship, I would convict them of both piracy and stupidity (and very quietly reprimand the warship's captain for failing to shoot back with rapid and overwhelming firepower).
You say piracy, John Roberts calls it a transportation tax - so its all good.
Of course the whole idea that pirates captured off Somalia shooting at a U.S. warship are given full access to our courts with defense attorneys and appeals is a completely different subject.
It gets complicated pretty quickly in a case like this.
The homosexualization of our military was apparently complete long before Barack Obama stepped into the White House.
Basically the defense claimed since it wasn’t a successful robbery it wasn’t piracy. Even ‘technically’, that’s silly.
I don’t think it’s complicated, they had every right to Kill them on the spot when they fired on a Military Vessel, They could lock them up in gitmo, try them as enemy combatants. There is no Constitutional Authority to put them on trial as civilians in the US, but they will do it anyway, it’s not like anyone will stop them. besides I thought the suggestions in the US Constitution were irrelevant to our Public Masters.
“a move that will make it significantly easier for the government to prosecute and convict suspected Somali pirates in federal court.”
The hell with that. Sink the boat out from under them and let them swim back to shore.
What’s complicated is that despite the idiocy of having the U.S. military pick up a group of mutants at sea who were firing at a Navy vessel instead of dealing with them on the spot ... these mutants ended up in a U.S. court that had to deal with a bizarre legal question that I don’t think any objective judge could really address.
A ship on the high seas retains the nationality of the flag it flies. Otherwise, you'd be saying that no crime committed on the high seas could be prosecuted. The pirates were properly brought to the United States for prosecution is a civilian court.
Actually, I am wrong on this one, and you are right. I checked the legal definitions, and piracy specifically requires robbery at sea. Robbery specifically requires that the criminal take possession of property. By the letter of the law, this was not piracy, so the lawyers have a point. It was just attempted murder (shooting at a person is specifically classified as attempted murder). The problem is that the law gives our warships jurisdiction over piracy on the high seas but not over attempted murder. Legally, we should not spend $40k a year to warehouse these pirates for life, since we have no jurisdiction over attempted murder in international waters. We should release them, preferably the way the Russians do - in a leaky inflatable boat, 600 miles from land, with a day's water for one person and no propulsion.
Actually the Russians prefer to release pirates with a hail of lead ... See numerous videos of their naval Gatling gun equivalents making merry with pirates accompanied with chorus’ of AK and RPG fire.
The only way to be sure ...
I'll stand by my original point, and it's been reinforced by others. The notion of a U.S. court getting involved in a criminal prosecution for "piracy" against a U.S. Navy vessel is ridiculous, and indicative of a completely sissified U.S. military.
Apparently you also would convict of murder the person who pointed a gun at someone, intending to kill them, then thinking better of it.
The law is not about what could have happened, but what DID happen.
That is as it should be:
Amendment VI In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
You are correct. I checked the letter of the law for piracy, and it does specifically require robbery, which specifically requires taking possession of property. All they are guilty of is attempted murder. The law should be changed by Congress to reclassify attempted piracy or attempted murder for the purpose of piracy as piracy, but they cannot be convicted under the law as written.
BTW, I think we should have the death penalty for any attempt at a crime for which the death penalty is a penalty. I also think we should have the death penalty for rape, kidnapping, and piracy.
I agree about rape, I'm unsure as to piracy though (I'd rather have the ability to have privateers and Letters of Marque).
BTW, I think we should have the death penalty for any attempt at a crime for which the death penalty is a penalty.
Here I don't agree, the attempt and the thing itself are different: merely attempting to set the world-record for pole-vaulting is not the same as actually setting the record. -- Besides which, the 'attempt' can be very badly abused by our justice-system: a man defending his home w/ lethal force could be considered to 'attempt the murder' of his attackers.
Far more dangerous, IMO, than "attempted crimes" are those perpetrated "under color of law" -- such as the TSA searching your person and effects without warrant.
The statute in question imposes a life sentence for ...the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations... The law of nations, as found at Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, defines the crime of piracy as follows:
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship...
While the US hasn't ratified the 1982 Law of the Seas Treaty, this definition was taken from the 1958 version of the Treaty, to which the US is a party.
But if the Defendants are serious in their contention that the 1817 definition of piracy should be applied, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book IV, Chapter the Fifth, titled Of Offences Against the Law of Nations, gives us the contemporary definition:
The offences of piracy, by common law, consists in committing those acts of robbery and depredation upon the high seas which, if committed upon land, would have amounted to a felony there.
If firing upon a US warship in domestic waters would be a felony, it becomes piracy by doing so in international waters.
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