Wrench in Maritime Drug Prosecutions
America’s war on drugs overseas was dealt a heavy blow when the Court of Appeals called into question current US tactics in foreign territorial waters.
Appeals Court Ruling Throws Wrench in Maritime Drug Prosecutions
America’s war on drugs overseas was dealt a heavy blow in the federal courts late last year. In November, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta handed prosecutors a crushing defeat by reversing the multiple drug convictions of four foreign nationals arrested after their fishing vessel with 760 kilos of cocaine was seized off the Panamanian coast three years ago. That cocaine was valued at between $180 million and $200 million.
The defendants were convicted and sent to prison under a never before challenged provision of the federal Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. The ruling reversing their convictions has called into question current US war drug tactics on foreign territory and territorial waters.
If upheld, the decision in US v. Bellaizac-Hurtado, could prevent the US from prosecuting suspected smugglers caught within the 12-mile territorial waters of South and Central America countries, and it may hinder US authorities from entering the 12-mile limit themselves while carrying out anti-narcotics operations. That would wreak havoc with US drug enforcement offensives such as Operation Martillo (Hammer), which has been aimed squarely at Central America and has so far seized over $2 billion worth of drugs from sea-going vessels.
Federal prosecutors haven’t said whether they will appeal, but it would be a surprise if they didn’t.