Thursday, July 26, 2007

11th Circuit vacates drug conviction

Extremely interesting case from the 11th Circuit today, United States v. Lopez-Vanegas. The issue is whether the U.S. drug laws reach conspiracies to distribute cocaine from one foreign country to another, where meetings occurred here in the U.S. The Court said no, reversing two convictions.

From the 11th:

Appellants assert that the agreement to ship cocaine from Colombia to Venezuela to Saudi Arabia to France for distribution throughout Europe does not violate 21 U.S.C. § 846 because the object of the conspiracy – the possession and distribution of cocaine on foreign soil – is not a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Thus, the district court should have granted defendants’ motion for acquittal at the close of the Government’s case. The Government asserts that the defendants’ conduct was encompassed by the prohibitions of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and § 841(a)(1), forbidding conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The issue of whether discussions occurring in the United States related to possession of controlled substances outside of the United States with intent to distribute those substances outside of the United States is a crime in the United States is res nova in the Eleventh Circuit. We squarely address that issue now.
Because the Court holds that 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846 do not apply extraterritorially, the conduct of Lopez and Salazar does not violate those statutes. The judgments of conviction and sentences issued by the district court are VACATED.

It will be interesting to see how this case is applied in a number of different prosecutions. First, the Padilla defense has raised this argument, saying that even if the Government is correct, the object of the conspiracy deals with conduct overseas. I'm not sure if the statute at issue there contemplates this sort of activity... but if not, watch out. (Second) Update -- I'm told that the statute at issue in the Padilla case does, in fact, address conduct overseas...

Also, what about the cases involving people going overseas to find underage sex. Typically, those cases involve a defendant talking to an undercover travel agent arranging for a trip to another country. To date, these convictions have been upheld even though all the intended activity is occurring in another country. UPDATE -- a helpful reader points out that the statute in these cases, 18 USC 2423, addresses people here travelling in interstate or foreign commerce, which makes it much different than the drug statute addressed above.

Very interesting...

Congrats to Scott Srebnick and Richard Strafer, the defense lawyers on this case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who were the prosectuors on the case? Seems like a Hyde Amendment issue to me.