May 23, 2012 4th Circuit published opinions

United States v Dire

United States v Said

These cases arose out of separate attacks on United States Navy vessels in the waters off Somalia. In both, small vessels approached the Navy vessel and fired on the Navy vessel with small arms. Both sets of attackers were captured and brought to Virginia. Each set was charged with various felonies including piracy on the high seas. Both sets of attackers moved to dismiss the piracy charges as the Navy vessels were not seized. The Said trial judge agreed that a completed robbery was a necessary element of general piracy and dismissed the count. The Dire trial judge surveyed United States and international case law, treaties and customary public international law and held thwarted robbery was a recognized form of general piracy and denied the motion to dismiss. The government appealed the Said dismissal. The Dire defendants were convicted of all counts and sentenced to life plus 80 years. They appealed their convictions and sentences. The panel handing both appeals agreed with the Dire trial judge and disagreed with the Said trial judge. The panel rejected the argument that the United States general piracy statute adopted the definition of piracy then existing in 1819. Instead, it held the statute proscribed piracy in terms of the international law definition of the crime in effect at the time of the charged offense. Given the definition in modern customary public international law covers shooting at a ship, the piracy count conviction was affirmed. The Said case was remanded for further proceedings on the piracy count.

The Dire opinion also addressed certain the defendants contentions that their statements to Navy investigators were obtained in violation of Miranda. The panel held that warnings to the effect that they did not have answer questions and that if they wanted an attorney one would be given to them interpreted into their native language satisfied Miranda. The panel also affirmed the trial court’s finding that the defendants were capable of waving their rights and did so in this case voluntarily. The panel also upheld a finding that one of the defendants was an adult. The panel finally rejected a claim that all firearms offenses should be treated as one offense for sentencing as each offense was a separate violation of federal law even if they arose out of one attack.

 

 

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