Golden Gate University Law Review


Recognizing the need for the United States government to take a leadership role in confronting and suppressing the resurging threat of maritime piracy, this Comment evaluates the current status of maritime piracy laws in the United States. Moreover, as the use of legal mechanisms will play a vital part in combating maritime piracy, this Comment seeks to demonstrate that the statutory system as it stands is both outdated and illsuited for addressing the complexities of piracy in the modern era, and will only impede the achievement of current strategic objectives. More specifically, as the crime of piracy is no longer committed by just one rogue ship and its crew, this Comment highlights the need for a system that takes into account the evolution of piracy to include multiple actors both at sea and on shore, addressing varying degrees of culpability and imposing sentences fit for the crime. As evidenced by the recent decision striking down the sole U.S. universal jurisdiction piracy statute as unconstitutional as applied,16 the system as it stands is inconsistent with both U.S. and international standards, and limits use of the judicial system as a means to suppress the crime.

Part II of this Comment provides an overview of the size and scope of the world’s piracy problem in 2015, as well as a brief discussion of the responses taken by the international community to date. Part III discusses the current system of piracy laws in the United States, explained in light of what was learned from the first universal jurisdiction piracy cases to be tried in nearly 200 years. Part IV discusses the consequences of these most recent decisions, arguing that the current one-statute-fits-all approach is improper for addressing piracy in the twenty-first century, as it is over-inclusive and unreasonably exposes certain individuals to punishments unfitting for their crimes. Finally, Part V presents simple recommendations for updating the U.S. piracy statutory scheme, in accordance with the principles of universal jurisdiction, international law, and evolving standards of criminal punishment.