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United States v. Flores

    Brief Fact Summary. For the crime committed overseas, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. While within foreign waters, where the local sovereign has not asserted its jurisdiction, the United States (P) may define and punish offenses committed by its own citizens on its vessels.

    Facts. An American was murdered by Flores (D) a U.S. citizen while on an American vessel at anchor in the Belgian Congo. The district court, to which Flores (D) was charged in Philadelphia, sustained a demurrer to the indictment and discharged Flores (D) on the premise that the court lacked jurisdiction. This judgment was appealed by the United States (P).

    Issue. While within foreign waters, where the local sovereign has not asserted its jurisdiction, can the United States (P) define and punish offenses committed by its own citizens on its vessels?

    Held. (Stone, J) Yes. While within foreign waters, where the local sovereign has not asserted its jurisdiction, the United States (P) may define and punish offenses committed by its own citizens on its vessels. A merchant vessel is taken to be part of the territory whose flag it flies and does not lose that character when it navigates water within the territorial limits of another sovereignty. The onus now lies on the U.S. courts to apply its own statutes to the offenses committed by its citizens on vessels flying its own flag. These statutes are however interpreted in the light of recognized principles of international law. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion. According to the Court, the indictment charged an offense within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States. The local authorities would have jurisdiction in the case of a serious crime if the local authorities claimed jurisdiction. The doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction is based on the principles of international comity.


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