In United States v. Gruezo, No. 22-11342 (May 5, 2023) (Newsom, Grant, Hull) (per curiam), the Court affirmed the defendant’s MDLEA convictions. After previously issuing this unpublished opinion without oral argument, the Court granted the government’s motion to publish the opinion.

First, the Court held that there was jurisdiction under the MDLEA. The defendant stipulated that the vessel had no indicia of nationality visible, and that the master had no claim of nationality when asked. That was enough, the Court held, to support jurisdiction. The Court went to explain that the statute did not require the Coast Guard to ask the master to make a claim of both nationality and registry because the statute is written in the disjunctive.

Second, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the MDLEA. The statute was not vague because it gave notice that, without a claim or nationality or registry, the vessel will be considered stateless.  The statute did not violate Miranda by failing to inform the master of the consequences for failing to make such a claim; an as-applied challenge was waived by the guilty plea, and a facial challenge was foreclosed by precedent. Finally, the statute did not violent due process for failing to require a minimum nexus to the United States, as that argument was foreclosed by precedent.

Third, the Court upheld the denial of a minor-role reduction. The defendant, a crewman for a short period of time, could not prevail by pointing to a broader criminal scheme, and his involvement was still serious and important because he knowingly participated in transporting a large quantity of cocaine, and he played an important role.