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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Specific Offense Is Preferred over a General One.

United States District Judge in Norfolk, Virginia  Raymond A. Jackson dismissed a count of piracy in United States v. Said. At least one person in a skiff, a class of craft of which rowboats are the most familiar to us, fired on an American ship. That ship fired back, killing some of the people in the boat, and arresting the survivors. The defendants moved to dismiss the piracy count-- there were other lesser crimes alleged under the statute, such as attack to plunder a vessel. Piracy here requires  a violation of the law of nations. The defendants claimed that what the feds alleged was not piracy under the law of nations, that they didn't rob anybody at sea. They never got the chance. Judge Jackson gave a number of reasons for his decision, but the main one seems to be that to attack to plunder a vessel, which is clearly alleged, and which is a much less serious crime, shows Congress's intent that attack to plunder is not subsumed under piracy under the law of nations. The feds can give ten years max in this case, not life.
That a Clinton appointee would analyze a statute by the intent of an early-nineteenth century Congress was newsworthy. On a second look, it seems that the judge was just trying to insulate his decision against the Fourth Federal Circuit and the Supremes.

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