A Tale of Two Judgments: United States v. Said and United States v. Hasan
25 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2011
Date Written: March 11, 2011
On August 17, 2010, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an opinion of global significance concerning the trial of five defendants alleged by the government to be Somali pirates. Judge Raymond A. Jackson granted the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss the count of piracy, and in so doing Judge Jackson issued the first court opinion to directly examine the definition of “piracy” in nearly two hundred years. This Order and Opinion rested on United States v. Smith. Judge Jackson’s interpretation of Smith however, was incorrect. Judge Jackson erroneously held Smith was controlling precedent and further, that Smith declared a comprehensive definition of “piracy as defined by the law of nations.”
Just over two months later, on October 29, 2010, Judge Mark S. Davis addressed the same issue. In a 98-page Order and Opinion, which referenced Judge Jackson’s earlier decision only briefly in a footnote, Judge Davis concluded Smith was not controlling precedent and had not announced an authoritative definition of piracy. While Judge Davis was legally correct in declaring Smith inapposite, he had no authority to do so. Stare decisis dictates Judge Davis follow the precedent established in Said, regardless of how poorly reasoned it may have been.
This paper discusses these two legally identical decisions in which two different judges reached two incorrect outcomes. Each decision was plagued by a misapplication of the doctrine of stare decisis.
Keywords: Piracy, Stare Decisis, Somali Pirates, Somalia, Admiralty, Maritime, Precedent, Dicta
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