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Secretary of State Certification showing that a drug laden vessel found in international waters was stateless does not violate the Confrontation Clause

In U.S v. Campbell the defendant was indicted for conspiracy to possess and for possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 70501 after he was arrested by Coast Guard on a vessel in international waters. The Coast Guard had earlier observed the vessel off the coast of Jamaica with three individuals aboard discarding dozens of bale in the water that the Coast Guard later determined were about 997 kilograms of marijuana. The Coast Guard determined the vessel lacked indicia of nationality because it lacked a flag, port, or registration number. The captain claimed the vessel was registered in Haiti. When the Coast Guard contacted the Republic of Haiti about whether the vessel was of Haitian nationality the response from Haiti was that it could neither confirm nor deny the registry. In a pretrial motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, the defendant argued the certification of the Secretary of State to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction for prosecution violated the defendant’s right under the Confrontation Clause and there was insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant was aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The defendant was convicted following a bench trial where he stipulated to the material facts.

In the first issue raised, defendant argued the admission of the certification of the Secretary of State without the ability to cross examine a Haitian witness violated his right under the Confrontation Clause. The Eleventh Circuit found the stateless nature of the vessel was not an element of the offense to be proved at trial and the admission of the certification did not violate his right to confront the witnesses at trial. The Confrontation Clause does not bar the admission of hearsay to make a pretrial determination of jurisdiction when it is not an element of the offense. The Confrontation Clause protects a defendant’s right to confront testimony offered against him to establish guilt, and the Supreme Court has never extended the reach of the Confrontation Clause “beyond the confines of a trial.

In the second issue the defendant argued that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a jury to determine whether extraterritorial jurisdiction exists. The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument in find that the issue of jurisdiction was preliminary to trial because the issue whether the boat was seized within the prescribed limit did not affect the right of the court to hold the person for trial. It only affect the question of guilt or innocence.

Third, the defendant argued the Secretary of State certification lacked details of the communication between the Coast Guard and Haiti and there was no testimony to corroborate the certification. The Eleventh Circuit found the certification provided conclusive proof that the vessel was within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Fourth, the defendant argued that Congress exceeded its authority under the Felonies Clause when it enacted the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act because the defendant’s drug trafficking lacked any nexus to the United States and because drug trafficking was not a capital offense during the “Founding era.” These arguments were foreclosed by Eleventh Circuit precedents which held that Congress has the authority to extend criminal jurisdiction of the U.S. to any stateless vessel in international waters as an exercise of its power under the Felonies Clause.