Statute’s Applicability to Conduct of U.S. Citizen Aboard Aircraft, Wherever Located, Defeats Extraterritorial Defense

The World in U.S. Courts: Fall 2013 - Criminal Law | August.20.2013

United States v. Lawrence, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17382 (5th Cir. Aug. 20, 2013)

Two Defendants challenged their convictions for conspiracy with intent to distribute for boarding an aircraft with illicit substances. Both Defendants challenged the extraterritorial application of the conspiracy statute, because although they had originally boarded in the United States, they had acquired the drugs in South America and transported them to the United Kingdom. The Court rejected the defense, concluding that the statute clearly envisioned extraterritorial reach because it applied to all U.S. citizens aboard any aircraft without regard to geographic location.

Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s consistent precedent that drug smuggling statutes “have a broad sweep” and generally overcome the presumption against extraterritoriality, the court of appeals held that the presumption against extraterritoriality should not apply to statutes which are “not logically dependent on their locality.” Because the first defendant was a U.S. citizen, the statute was constitutionally applied to her. And although the second defendant was not a U.S. citizen, application of the statute did not run afoul of the Due Process Clause because the defendant resided in the U.S. and the conspiracy was formulated and initiated in Texas.

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