High-seas Homicide

Dear Matt:

If my wife bumps me off here in San Diego, it's homicide and the county D.A. will prosecute. But what if we're off shore in her private dinghy? Who has jurisdiction? Suppose we're way off shore, beyond territorial waters? Are there any laws out there? Should I be worried if she wants me to go sailing after an argument about leaving the toilet seat up?

-- Jon, Del Mar

Mother Nature probably has jurisdiction over a dinghy on the high seas. She'll take care of things long before the cops can pull your wife over to the curb and take her in at gunpoint. Make no mistake; laws clutter up the place like crazy. You can even trip over them 5-, 600 miles off the coast. But according to Cousin Ethan Alice, the star lineman for the MA squad of lawyers, a freelance dinghy won't automatically fall under anyone's jurisdiction. National and international maritime laws and agreements principally apply to commercial vessels or boats with an official link (registration or "flagging") to a nation in some way. That simplifies matters. The nation in question can claim jurisdiction over the crime scene and handle the prosecution.

Your best hope in this death-by-dinghy scenario is your survivors. Supposin' your wife makes it back to shore somehow and doesn't have a plausible explanation for what happened to you, your relatives could appeal to U.S. authorities and ask them to pursue the situation. That would take evidence, which could be a little hard to come by. If no nation claims the crime, you're�um�sunk.

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