United States v. Benoit, No. 12-2942 (3d Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
The U.S. Coast Guard had received information from the U.S. DEA, which learned from British Virgin Island law enforcement, which learned from Grenadian law enforcement, that the U.S.-registered vessel“Laurel” might be smuggling illegal narcotics. The Laurel, under the command Benoit, who has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Grenada, was intercepted in international waters. Coast Guard officers conducted a routine safety inspection, which the Laurel passed. They unsuccessfully attempted to conduct an at-sea space accountability inspection; rough waters made areas of the vessel inaccessible. Officer Riemer questioned Benoit and his crew, Williams, about their destination and purpose. Benoit gave inconsistent answers. Riemer conducted ION scan swipes; none came back positive for any explosive, contraband, or narcotics. The Laurel was directed to a U.S. port, where a canine boarded and alerted to narcotics. Still unable to access the entire vessel, officers directed Benoit to sail the Laurel to St. Thomas to enable a Vehicle and Container Inspection System (VACIS) search for anomalies in the vessel, which revealed anomalous masses. A Customs officer drilled a hole and found a substance that field-tested as cocaine. Officers cut a larger hole, revealing an area filled with brick-like packages. Laboratory tests revealed the bricks were cocaine hydrochloride with a net weight of 250.9 kilograms. After denial of two motions to suppress, Benoit and Williams were convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction (46 U.S.C. 70503(a)(1), 70506(a), 70506(b); 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(ii)); aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction; and attempted importation of cocaine. The Third Circuit affirmed.