Boat Found With Cocaine Was No Longer Subject To SVG’s Jurisdiction

On November 14, 2019, the Second Circuit (Newman, Pooler, Cote) issued a decision in United States v. Van Der End, affirming the conviction of a defendant who pled guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy and activity, in violation of the Maritime Drug Enforcement Act (the “MDLEA”), 46 U.S.C. §§ 70501 et seq.

Most drug prosecutions in federal court are initiated pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act but this case involved issues of maritime apprehension, and was charged under MDLEA.

Background

Stefan Van Der End, a citizen of the Netherlands, was one of three foreign nationals on board the vessel the Sunshine when it was stopped by the United States Coast Guard on May 23, 2016.

The master of the Sunshine told the Coast Guard that the boat was registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (“SVG”) and provided the registration information.

The authorities eventually discovered that the Sunshine had more than 1200 kilograms of cocaine on board.  The Coast Guard inquired with SVG authorities about the boat’s registration and the SVG authorities disclosed that the Sunshine’s registration had expired and that SVG did not consider the vessel to be subject to SVG’s jurisdiction.

Van Der End and the other crewmembers aboard the Sunshine were brought to New York and arrested.

A grand jury indicted Van Der End and the other crewmembers with manufacturing and distributing, and possessing with intent to manufacture and distribute, five or more kilograms of cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States in violation of the MDLEA.

The indictment also charged Van Der End and his codefendants with conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking activity, also in violation of the MDLEA.

Van Der End filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  He also challenged the constitutionality of the MDLEA as applied to him on due process grounds and raised a Sixth Amendment challenge to his prosecution.

The district court denied Van Der End’s motion and he then entered a guilty plea without a plea agreement.  Van Der End was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment and 5 years supervised released.