Mon | Oct 14, 2019

‘No merit’ - US gov’t responds to secondary claim by J’can fisherman

Published:Friday | September 13, 2019 | 12:15 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer
Jamaican fisherman Patrick Ferguson

The United States government has responded to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of a Jamaican fisherman, describing it as “untimely and without merit”.

The ACLU, on July 12, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law used to convict Jamaican national Patrick Ferguson in the United States in January 2018.

The contention lies with United States Code Title 18 Section 2237. (a)(2)(B), which states: “It shall be unlawful for any person on board a vessel ... [registered in a foreign nation if that nation has consented or waived objection to the enforcement of United States law by the United States] … to provide materially false information to a federal law enforcement officer during a boarding of a vessel regarding the vessel’s destination, origin, ownership, registration, nationality, cargo, or crew.”

The human-rights group said the conviction violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because Ferguson did not have adequate notice that his conduct would place him in criminal jeopardy under United States law.

The fisherman has petitioned the court to vacate or set aside his conviction on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over his extraterritorial conduct and that his conviction is, therefore, unconstitutional.

Responding to the claim, assistant US attorney Sean Cronin said that the motion to vacate is untimely under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. He noted that the law provided a one-year statute of limitations, which runs from the date on which the judgement of conviction becomes final.

The assistant US attorney also contends that Ferguson’s due process claim does not involve an argument that the statute is unconstitutional or that he is actually innocent of the crime of conviction.

PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

Further, he stated that Ferguson’s claim that the statute used to convict him is unconstitutional is without merit because it agrees with the principles of international law.

The ACLU has, however, maintained its position, providing a further response to the US government. The group insists that the procedural guidelines have been followed and, therefore, the court is able to rule on the matter.

Fellow fishermen Robert Weir, David Williams, and Luther Patterson filed a similar claim on August 15 and are waiting for a response from the US government by September 30.

In June, the fishermen filed a lawsuit in which they claimed that they were captured by the members of the US Coast Guard; stripped naked; given white, paper-thin overalls and disposable slippers to wear instead; and subsequently chained by their ankles to metal cables in harsh weather conditions aboard the vessel.

George Thompson, the fifth fisherman who was detained with them, is not a party to the suit.

nickoy.wilson@gleanerjm.com