Document Type

Case Note


Captain Richard Smith was sailing his charter vessel, Cimarron, along with a crew from Camden, Maine to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands for the winter season. During the voyage, Smith stopped in Beaufort, North Carolina, and picked up David Pontious who would join the crew for the remainder of the journey. Shortly after joining the crew, Pontious began experiencing hallucinations and sickness, culminating in Pontious attacking Smith. After the altercation was broken up, Pontious jumped overboard and drowned. Smith never made an attempt to assist Pontious and waited until the next day to radio for assistance. Upon the Cimarron’s arrival in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Smith was arrested and charged under a rarely used statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1115, commonly known as Seaman’s Manslaughter. After a trial, Smith’s attorney filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure on the ground that the statute only applies to commercial vessels. Over the Government’s objection, the motion was granted. Applying two cannons of statutory interpretation, ejusdem generis and noscitur a sociis, Smith contended that in order to be convicted under § 1115, the vessel needed to be engaged in commercial activity. This includes carrying passengers or cargo for pay. Accordingly, because the Cimarron, was not being paid to transport any passengers or cargo, and no members of the crew were being paid, the Court accepted Smith’s argument that the Cimarron was not engaged in commercial activity and therefore § 1115 is inapplicable.

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