Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Davila-Mendoza: MDLEA Prosecution for Drug Trafficking in Foreign Waters Exceeded Congress' Authority

 In United States v. Davila-Mendoza et al., No. 17-12038 (Aug. 26, 2020) (Branch, Jill Pryor, Boggs), the Court vacated the defendants’ MDLEA convictions on the ground that the statute, as applied, exceeded Congress’ constitutional authority.

 The drug-trafficking activities in this case occurred in the territorial waters of a consenting foreign country, not the high seas.  The Court first concluded that, as applied, the MDLEA exceeded Congress’ authority under the Foreign Commerce Clause.  The Court assumed, without deciding, that this clause had the same scope as the interstate commerce clause.  Applying that framework, the defendants’ conduct lacked a “substantial effect” on commerce between the United States and foreign nations.  There was no allegation or evidence that drug trafficking in waters of a foreign nation by foreign nationals on a foreign boat of drugs not bound for the US substantially affected US commerce with foreign nations.  The Court rejected the government’s argument that wholly foreign drug trafficking impacted the international drug trade, which in turn could impact US commerce with foreign nations.  The Court also rejected the government’s argument that this prosecution was an exercise of Congress’ authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to enforce a bilateral treaty with Jamaica, because the MDLEA was enacted before the treaty and thus could not have effectuated it.