Connecticut Law Review Volume 43 - Issue 5

False Perceptions on Limitation: Why Imposing a Nexus Requirement Under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act Would Not Significantly Discourage Efforts To Prosecute Maritime Drug Trafficking

The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (“MDLEA”) is the principal statute through which the United States prosecutes smugglers of narcotics on ocean-going vessels in international and territorial waters and remains one of the most important weapons in America’s arsenal in the ongoing war on drugs. Most of the Federal Circuits require only that the MDLEA statutory jurisdictional requirements be met in order for suspected smugglers to stand trial in the United States. The Ninth Circuit, however, has required an additional provision that Fifth Amendment constitutional due process concerns be met by demonstrating a “nexus” of activity linking the smugglers and their ship to the United States. Critics of the Ninth Circuit approach claim that the added Fifth Amendment due process requirements are unnecessary because the international law principle of universal jurisdiction applies to the internationally condemned practice of narcotics trafficking. If the Supreme Court were to mandate that the Ninth Circuit model be adopted, the critics further argue, then the ability of the United States to secure convictions under the act would be significantly impeded and the MDLEA’s value as a potent weapon against the war on drugs diminished. This Note examines the potential impact of adopting the Ninth Circuit nexus model as the de facto standard for satisfying jurisdiction under the MDLEA and concludes that full adoption of the nexus model would not significantly restrict U.S. efforts to secure convictions under the MDLEA nor the broader international effort against the narcotics trade provided that the U.S. Coast Guard makes minor adjustments in their maritime interdiction procedures.

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