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Media Alerts - United States v. Ali Ali
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June 11, 2013
  United States v. Ali Ali
Headline: D.C. Circuit approves extraterritorial ban on aiding and abetting piracy and hostage-taking but bars extraterritorial application of ban on conspiracy to commit piracy.

Area of Law: International law; criminal law.

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the district court correctly limited aiding and abetting piracy charge to Appellee's conduct on the high seas and dismissed his conspiracy to commit piracy and hostage taking charges.

Brief Summary: Ali Mohamed Ali, a Somali national, helped negotiate the ransom of a Danish-owned merchant ship and its crew after they were captured on November 7, 2008 by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Ali receiving a 1% share of ransom plus $75,000 for his services. Ali claimed that his only involvement was to defuse the tense situation; however, the U.S. government suspected Ali of collaboration with the pirates and indicted him under 18 U.S.C. § 371 for conspiring to commit and aiding and abetting piracy on the high seas and for hostage-taking. Ali filed a motion to dismiss all charges. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia limited the aiding and abetting count to acts Ali committed while he was on the high seas; dismissed the conspiracy count, concluding that the definition of piracy under international law does not encompass conspiracy; and dismissed counts relating to extraterritorial acts of hostage taking on the basis that they violated due process. The United States appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court noted that, because 18 U.S.C. § 371 did not clearly apply extraterritorially to offenses relating to aiding/abetting and conspiracy liability, it would examine the scope of the act using two judicial canons of interpretation - the presumption against extraterritorial effect and the presumption that acts of Congress should not be construed to violate the law of nations (the so-called Charming Betsy canon). Beginning with the aiding/abetting count, the court found that application of aiding/abetting piracy liability to acts within territorial waters was specifically contemplated in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that Congress had expressly defined piracy in terms of the law of nations. The court thus reversed the district court's limitation of the aiding/abetting count to Ali's acts on the high seas. Turning to the conspiracy count, the court found that, because UNCLOS is silent on conspiracy to commit piracy, the Charming Betsy canon cut the other way. The court agreed with the district court that there was no basis to conclude that Congress intended to expressly reject or expand upon the protections of international law. Regarding the hostage taking counts, the court concluded that the relevant statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1203, unambiguously criminalized Ali's conduct and, equally unambiguously, applied extraterritorially. Finally, the court held that it did not need to determine whether the Fifth Amendment's due process guarantee imposed limits on the extraterritorial application of the statute because, even if it did, the application of the statute was neither arbitrary nor unfair and thus did not violate the Constitution.

For the full text of this opinion, please visit

Panel (if known): Brown, Edwards, Silberman

Argument Date (if known): November 19, 2012

Date of Issued Opinion: June 11, 2013

Docket Number: 12-3056

Decided: Affirmed in part; reversed in part

Case Alert Author: Tiffany Kelley

Counsel (if known): David B. Goodhand, Ronald C. Machen, Jr., Elizabeth Trosman, Brenda J. Johnson, and Elizabeth Gabriel for Appellant. Brian C. Brook, Matthew J. Peed, and Timothy R. Clinton for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Brown

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 06/11/2013 03:14 PM     DC Circuit  

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