Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: legal homicide? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: legal homicide?
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: jeraboo-ga
List Price: $35.00
Posted: 23 Oct 2006 19:22 PDT
Expires: 22 Nov 2006 18:22 PST
Question ID: 776244
As a non-resident expatriate American citizen, have I committed a
crime in the United States by murdering a citizen of Cuba in
international waters on an undocumented, unregistered vessel?
Subject: Re: legal homicide?
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 23 Oct 2006 20:20 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

The answer is Yes, No, Maybe, Hard to say...!

Bottom line, is that if the US wanted to pursue a prosecution, they
probably could find the grounds to do so.  However, Cuba would have a
much more direct interest in prosecuting, since one of their nationals
is the victim.

Before diving in, though, please note the disclaimer below, and be
reminded that Google Answers is no substitute for professional legal
advice.  So take everything here with the appropriate grains of salt.

That said, you are asking a question about extraterritorial law, which
is always a bit complex and more than a bit murky.

Ordinarily, if a crime takes place on a boat, it falls under the
jurisdiction of whatever country's flag the boat is flying.

For the hypothetical "undocumented, unregistered vessel" you
mentioned, if it had any connection to the US -- manufactured here,
piloted by an American, spent time in US ports, did business with the
US, etc -- then the US could make the case that it was an American
vessel, and US jurisdiction applies.

Even without such a connection, if the US were to unilaterally assert
that it has authority to prosecute, the courts may well go along with
it.  No law that I know of specifically grants such authority, but at
the same time, no law opposes such authority, either, and no other
country is likely to oppose it in the circumstances you describe.

You may find this Wikipedia article on Age of Consent interesting:

as it has a section on Extraterritoriality that indicates that
Americans can still be held liable for violating child molestation
laws, even if the act takes place in a foreign country, and even if
the act is not illegal in the country in question.

This sort of transboundary extension of authority also occurs in the
world of business -- American companies cannot offer bribes in other
countries, even if the bribes are not illegal in the country where
they occur.

All this is not to say that the US would pursue such a case if it
occurred.  But if they wanted to, they probably could.  The accused
would no doubt argue that the US courts don't have jurisdiction in the
matter, and it would then be up to the courts themselves to decide
whether they should or shouldn't hear the case.

Hope that fully answers your question, but if there's anything else
you need, just let me know by posting a Request for Clarification.



Request for Answer Clarification by jeraboo-ga on 23 Oct 2006 21:25 PDT
You site two instances where US law follows American citizens oversees
but both examples are the result of specific laws. Specifically:

Federal law (see PROTECT Act of 2003) prohibits United States citizens
or permanent residents to engage in international travel with the
purpose or effect of having commercial sex with a person under the age
of 18, or any sex with a person under the age of 16; the age of
consent in the target country is irrelevant. Facilitating such travel
is also illegal.

Anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibit
americans from bribing foreign officials.

However, I see no US law which gives the US the right to prosecute an
American citizen for a homicide (allegedly murder) that occurred in a
completely stateless environment. Please assume that the vessel has no
connection with the United States whatever. The US does not recognize
the Cuban government or its legal system. On what possible grounds
could the US Attorney General claim jurisdiction and what would be the
specific crime cited if he did?

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 24 Oct 2006 06:07 PDT

I'll be more than happy to add some detail to my answer, but please be is quite a busy day for me, and I'm not sure how soon
I'll be able to get to it.

Stay tuned...


Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 24 Oct 2006 16:39 PDT
Let me begin by repeating a point I made earlier.  I think it highly
unlikely that the US government would decide to pursue charges under
the circumstances you described.

However, if they *wanted* to, I don't see anything stopping them.

And indeed...they may want to, if the case receives some sort of
noteriety.  Perhaps relations with Cuba are warming, and we want to
see that justice is done.  Perhaps the murder victim actually worked
for the CIA.  Perhaps the NY Times decided to run the story on the
front page, under the headline, "Getting Away With Murder on the High
Seas", turning the case into a cause celebre.

Whatever may prompt the government to act, they can act if they want to.  

Your orginal question asked "have I committed a crime"?

But it's important to recognize that a question like has to be
answered in several parts.  A *prosecuter* may think that a crime has
been committed and that US courts are the proper venue, and have the
alleged perpetrator arrested.  Whether the courts eventually *agree*
that, indeed, a crime was committed -- or whether US courts have the
proper jurisdiction -- is another matter entirely, and may take years
to answer.

In 1985, an American DEA agent was killed in Mexico:

The US had Mexican nationals kidnapped and brought to the US for
trial.  They collected evidence in Mexico through methods that would
have been unconstitutionial in the US.  The action resulted in two
Supreme Court decisions that I know of, which in some respects
extended extraterritorial authority, and in some respects, constrained

The point is, the DEA wanted these guys, and went and got them, and
the legal fine points were worked out after the fact.  The same could
happen in the case you described, if someone in US law enforcement
wanted to pursue it badly enough.

What law, you ask?  A fair question, but the matter of which laws
could be brought to bear depends entirely on the details of the case,
of which I am not privy.  Perhaps piracy.  Or conspiracy.  Murder
statutes for sure, though it's hard to say which one.  Don't forget,
though, that they got Al Capone on tax evasion...when you want the guy
badly enough, you use whatever works!

Even the Geneva Convention might be brought to bear:


...On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of
any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship
taken by piracy and under pirates, and arrest the persons and seize
the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the
seize may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also
determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or
property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.


Lastly, I would bring your attention to this interesting article from
the United States Department of Justice:
International Organized Crime

It's worth spending some time with, but here's a bit of a sense of the
eagerness with which some parts of law enforcement are seeking to
expand US authority in traditionally murky areas:

...Traditionally, criminal statutes are not given extraterritorial
application unless some misconduct occurred within the United States,
as noted in United States v. Wright-Barker, 784 F.2d 161, 166-68 (3d
Cir. 1986)(citing Strassheim v. Dailey, 221 U.S. 280, 285 (1911)).
However, the most recent draft of the Restatement of the Foreign
Relations Law of the United States asserts that laws can be applied
extraterritorially when their only nexus to the United States is an
intended effect upon or within the United States...

...Wright-Barker also noted the following five principles governing a
sovereign's interest in exercising criminal jurisdiction:

1) territorial?within a country's territorial borders;
2) nationality?as applied to a country?s own nationals, wherever located; 
3) passive personality?as applied to those who commit crimes against a
country?s nationals, wherever located;
4) protective?applied to acts that have a potentially adverse effect
on a country's security and governmental interests, wherever
committed; and
5) universal?applied by any country to acts, wherever committed,
regarded as heinous crimes.

U.S. courts have sustained extraterritorial application of the RICO
statute involving predicate crimes committed on foreign soil
consistent with the principles enumerated above. For example, in
United States v. Noriega, 746 F. Supp. 1506, 1512-17 (S.D. Fla. 1990),
the district court held that the RICO statute applied
extraterritorially to drug trafficking, even regarding a defendant
whose conduct occurred entirely outside the United States, because
Congress intended that the RICO statute "be read expansively as a
means of attacking organized crime at every level" and "be liberally
construed to effectuate its remedial purpose."


You may argue that none of the laws or situations I cited apply in
your case (though item #2 in the above list certainly seems to apply).

And who may be absolutely right.  But no one would know
for sure until your man was arrested, brought to the US for trial, and
the courts were allowed the opportunity to say yea or nay to the
jurisdictional questions.

Figure that would take a good five or ten years, all told.

Let me know if there's anything more I can do for you on this.

jeraboo-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: legal homicide?
From: myoarin-ga on 25 Oct 2006 08:41 PDT
Since you start with the premise that you are a non-resident expat, if
you manage to get to a country that does not have an extradition
treaty with the US, that would be a help.  Indeed, even if the country
did have a treaty, I believe it would first look at the merits of the
US court's grounds for extradition and possibly could reject the
request, based on its own interpretation of the facts presented.
This would cause a diplomatic scene, something both countries would
anticipate and consider in their decisions.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy