The Capture and Interrogation of § 1651 Pirates: The Consequences of United States v. Dire

BY James C. Douglas

Typically, the phrase “piracy on the high seas” conjures up images of seventeenth and eighteenth century buccaneers looting the ships of rich monarchies. Perhaps due to this sentiment, Congress has not felt the need to substantively amend its general piracy statute—18 U.S.C. § 1651—in over 150 years. Maritime piracy, however, is making a comeback of sorts off of the coast of East Africa, a comeback that creates an issue for the judicial system: how are courts supposed to interpret this “antique” statute? The issue becomes even more problematic once one considers the general lack of piracy case law available for guidance.

Recently, the Fourth Circuit confronted this dilemma in United States v. Dire—a case involving a Somali pirate attack on a United States vessel. This Recent Development argues that, despite a glaring lack of guidance, the Fourth Circuit succeeded in establishing strong, correct precedent for future courts to follow. The Dire court’s interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 1651 effectively balances the individual right to due process against Congress’s intent that § 1651 mirror the international community’s dynamic definition of piracy.

The enforcement of domestic law on foreign nationals, however, raises concerns outside of the realm of statutory interpretation. One of these concerns—the availability of Miranda rights and Fifth Amendment protection to foreign detainees—came to the forefront in Dire. While this Recent Development argues that the Fourth Circuit successfully interpreted § 1651, the court’s concomitant treatment of Miranda rights, at best, lacks the same resolute approach, and, at worst, reduces the Fifth Amendment“knowing and intelligent” waiver requirement to a mere formality.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 91 N.C. L. Rev. Addendum 119 (2013)