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United States v. Vasquez-Velaso


    Citation. United States v. Vasquez-Velasco, 15 F.3d 833, 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 1200, 94 Cal. Daily Op. Service 532, 94 Daily Journal DAR 924 (9th Cir. Cal. Jan. 25, 1994)

    Brief Fact Summary. An American by name John Walker and Alberto Radelat, a photographer and U.S. legal resident, were killed while writing a novel in Mexico by Javier Vasquez-Velasco (D). who was a member of a drug cartel in Guadalajara and several others. He was found guilty and on appeal, Vasquez-Velasco (D) argued that U.S. penal laws do not apply extraterritorially.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Extraterritorial application of a penal statute to the murder of a U.S. citizen mistaken for a federal agent is consistent with principles of international law.

    Facts. United States v. Felix Gutierrez, 940 F.2d 1200 (9th Cir. 1991), cert, denied, 508 U.S. 906 (1993), a case in which a defendant was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Enrique Camarena, an American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent and Alfredo Zavala, a DEA informant, was the basis for the appeal by the defendant in this case, Javier Vasquez-Velaso (D). the defendant was a member of a drug cartel in Guadalajara and several other members, beat and killed John and Radelat. The argument of the U.S. government was that Javier and his three-co-defendants committed crimes to further their position within the drug cartel in Guadalajara. Hence, the murders Velaso (D) was charged with were allegedly retaliatory actions against a DEA crackdown. Velaso (D) was found guilty by a jury for violent crimes in aid of a racketeering enterprise in violation of 18 U.S.C. S. 1959. Velaso (D) argued that the U.S. penal laws do not apply extraterritorially when he appealed.

    Issue. Is the extraterritorial application of a penal statute to the murder of a U.S. citizen mistaken for a federal agent consistent with principles of international law?

    Held. (Fletcher, J.) Yes. Extraterritorial application of a penal statute to the murder of a U.S. citizen mistaken for a federal agent is consistent with principles of international law. The exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction undr the objective territorial principle is permitted under international law, under which jurisdiction is exercised over acts performed outside the United States (P) that produce detrimental effects within the United States (P) and the protective principle, under which jurisdiction is asserted over foreigners for an act committed outside the United States that may impinge on the territorial intergrity, security or political independence of the U.S. hence, extraterritorial application of 18 U.S.C. S 1959 to violent crimes associated with drug trafficking is reasonable under international law principles, since it is a serious and universally condemned offense. As in Felix-Guiterrez, the crime was directed at the U.S. (P).

    Discussion. The objectives territorial and protective principles apply because the defendant in this case murdered two U.S. citizens on the mistaken belief they were DEA agents and their murder might intimidate the DEA and local police and drug agencies, who might otherwise cooperate with the DEA. Extraterritorial jurisdiction would have been difficult to apply if the government had been unsuccessful in its argument that the murders were committed as retaliation against the DEA because the case run on the defendant’s subjective belief.


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