United States v. Lopez Hernandez, No. 15-10810 (11th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), which criminalizes an individual's possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance while on board a covered vessel. The court held that defendants' ship fit within the MDLEA's broad definition of a "vessel without nationality" because a designee of the U.S. Secretary of State has certified, and thereby "proved conclusively," that Guatemala had not "affirmatively and unequivocally" asserted that the ship was of Guatemalan nationality. The court explained that, under the clear terms of the MDLEA, that certification put the crime within the territorial coverage of the statutory prohibition, and the executive branch thereby effectively assumed responsibility for any diplomatic consequences of the criminal prosecution. The court held that defendant's remaining arguments were without merit.