Thursday, November 16, 2006

U.S. v. Zakharov (9th Cir. - Nov. 15, 2006)

I always like reading about case with a San Diego connection. Like this one. Which not only concerns an appeal from the Southern District of California, but which may well have also been about the "San Diego connection." To cocaine, that is.

Sure, the case is technically about a seizure of cocaine on the high seas; in particular, cocaine hat was found aboard the Belize-registered vessel Svesda Maru when it was 500 miles off the coast of southern Mexico, in international waters. And we're not talking about merely a tiny little bit of cocaine. We're talking about many, many kilos. As in 9200 kilos. One of the largest cocaine seizures in meritime history. Literally tons of cocaine.

I say "San Diego connection" because, yeah, the boat was captured in international waters, but where exactly did you think those 9200 kilos were likely going to end up? Mexico? Canada? Not likely. Almost assuredly the good old U.S. of A. Very potentially through San Diego, via TJ. And from there to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and beyond.

Actually, the case is (in part) all about this; in particular, whether there was a sufficient nexus between the coke seized in international waters off Mexico and the United States. But Judge Tallman agrees with the district court -- and I think he's right -- that there was indeed enough evidence that the cocaine was destined for the United States to support jurisdiction.

There was another interesting issue in the case as well; namely, whether the government violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5(a), which provides that “any person making an arrest without a warrant shall take the arrested person without unnecessary delay before the nearest available federal magistrate judge.” After all, Zakharov was arrested without a warrant, and the government took 11 days to take him before a magistrate judge. That's more than a little delay, no?

But Judge Tallman holds -- again rightly -- that this delay wasn't unnecessary. Because that's simply how long it took the ship to travel the 1620 nautical miles from where in was seized, in southern Mexico, to the nearest federal magistrate judge (in San Diego). Sure, the U.S. could have taken him by helicopter or faxed over something or whatever. But they're not required to do so. Zakharov was immediately taken to the magistrate the very same day the ship arrived in the United States. That's good enough.

9200 kilograms of cocaine. Ingeniously stashed behind a fuel tank. Which took five-plus days of searching by successive seven-member Navy/Coast Guard boarding parties to find. Impressive on both sides of the criminal aisle in this one.