More forum selection in criminal cases – 5th Circuit approves prosecutors’ filing in “center of commerce” in EDTX

On Monday I noted that the EDTX is a venue of choice in significant drug smuggling cases arising out of seizures on the other side of the Galapagos islands.

Coincidentally, on that same day the Fifth Circuit released another opinion affirming prosecutors’ right to select an EDTX venue for a false statements case where the alleged lie took place in Eastern District of Texas, was mailed from the Northern District of Texas, and the agency received the document in Colorado.   This underscores a fact familiar to EDTX practitioners – there are a lot of criminal cases that could have been filed in the Northern District of Texas or elsewhere but are instead filed in the Eastern District, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.  And the Fifth Circuit has something to say about that, as I explain.

Forum selection in criminal cases – how drug arrests near the Galapagos Islands get to the Eastern District of Texas

The subject of forum selection in civil cases gets a lot of press.  What doesn’t get as much attention is forum selection in criminal cases, i.e. where the Justice Department files its cases.

In the same way that private litigants often seek out EDTX judges and juries, prosecutors often do the same in criminal cases.  In fact, East Texas juries are often asked to hear criminal cases involving drug smuggling because the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas has asked to prosecute them.  This started with former U.S. Attorney John M. Bales, continued under his successor as Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston, and is continuing under new U.S. Attorney Joe Brown.  The intent is to attempt to break Central American smuggling networks responsible for bringing cocaine into Texas.

“To really have an effect on the drug supply in this country, we have to be willing to go after every person involved in the chain of distribution,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News Friday. “Whether it’s the street dealer, or the person on the boat transporting, or the leader of the cartel, we will charge them and convict them.”

This was front and center in Judge Mazzant’s courtroom in Sherman last week as he wrapped up a criminal trial dealing with two defendants accused of taking part in an attempt to smuggle a ton of Columbian cocaine across the Pacific Ocean.  The defendants were arrested after being stopped approximately 1,000 miles west of the Galapagos Islands by the  USCGC Hamilton (WMSL-753), which I feel obliged to tell you is the fourth Legend-class cutter of the United States Coast Guard, as well as the fifth cutter named after Alexander Hamilton, who in addition to absolutely killing it on Broadway was also the first United States Secretary of the Treasury and in that position requested the formation of the United States Coast Guard (as the United States Revenue Cutter Service).

The case is believed to be the first involving maritime drug smuggling to make it to trial in the EDTX.  Cases more routinely involve smuggling from Colombia to the U.S. and Mexico.

No patents were harmed in the prosecution of this case.