Friday, June 08, 2012

Pirates repelled by the USS Nicholas lose their appeals

US v. Dire, US v. Said:  The crime of piracy returns to relevance in Dire, after several Somalis launched an ill-fated attack on a United States warship in disguise as a merchant vessel in the waters off the horn of Africa. Chiefly, the appellants argued that since they did not actually board and rob the USS Nicholas, that their actions did not, as a matter of law, amount to a piracy offense under 18 U.S.C. § 1651. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and upheld all the convictions.

The Fourth Circuit held that the statutes defining "piracy" here incorporate a definition of piracy that changes with advancements in the law of nations (derived from such international legal authorities as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the High Seas Convention), and the definition at the time of the appellants’ attack on the USS Nicholas encompassed the Somalis’ violent conduct (they fired AKs at the ship). The Fourth Circuit rejected the appellants’ challenge to the piracy convictions.

Another bone of contention in this appeal was whether the confessions obtained by U.S. servicemen aboard the USS Nicholas three days after the attack were appropriately advised of their Miranda rights. The appellants argued that there was a language barrier, they lacked any familiarity with the U.S. legal system, and they lacked education and were illiterate, in order to maintain that their waiver of their rights was not knowing or intelligent. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, and found that based upon a totality of the circumstances, the appellants must have known that they did not have to speak with the special agent investigating them and that they could request counsel.

In a companion case, US v. Said, the Fourth Circuit vacates the dismissal of the piracy count in a case arising from a separate attack on the USS Ashland, based upon its reasoning and holding in Dire.

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