On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (D.C. Crim. No. 96-cr-00230)
Before: Stapleton, Cowen and Alito, Circuit Judges
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cowen, Circuit Judge.
This appeal arises from the order of the District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands granting the defendants' motion to suppress evidence resulting from the Coast Guard's warrantless search of the M/V Mona Queen in the British Virgin Islands. The government contends that the district court erred in suppressing the evidence obtained from the warrantless search because, inter alia, a warrantless search in a foreign country does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
We conclude that the Coast Guard possessed probable cause to search the Mona Queen and that no warrant was required since searches of ships in general fall within the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. As a result of the Coast Guard satisfying the probable cause standard, we have no need to ascertain whether the Fourth Amendment actually applies to searches by U.S. law enforcement agents of U.S. citizens' property in foreign countries, whether a lower standard is required for such searches, and whether such searches require a warrant. Accordingly, the evidence obtained by the Coast Guard's warrantless search is admissible. We will reverse the order of the district court and remand for further proceedings.
At the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, Clifton Ashley Boynes, Sr. (Boynes), was captain of the M/V Mona
Queen and sole owner of Interisland Boat Services (Interisland), which operates a ferry service within the U.S. Virgin Islands under a U.S. Coast Guard certificate of inspection. On the morning of February 1, 1995, Boynes was at the Red Hook ferry dock preparing the Mona Queen for its 6:30 a.m. run to Caneel Bay, St. John.
At approximately 6:30 a.m., two Coast Guard officers patrolling Red Hook Harbor, Lt. Keith Janssen and BMC Salvatore Piazza, observed a dark brown substanceflowing from the Mona Queen's starboard-side overboard bilge discharge fitting. Janssen took samples of the substance from the discharge fitting and from the sheen of the Mona Queen's wake, but the officers could not complete their investigation at that time because their craft developed engine trouble.
Later in the morning, Piazza sent a fax to Boynes stating that the Coast Guard was investigating a pollution incident involving the Mona Queen, and the fax included a federal letter of interest. The fax instructed Boynes to bring the Mona Queen to the Marine Safety Detachment Office in St. Thomas at 1:00 p.m. that day. Three hours before the scheduled inspection, Janssen and Piazza encountered the Mona Queen at the Red Hook ferry dock and approached Boynes, who acknowledged receiving the fax. The officers requested permission from Boynes to board the Mona Queen and inspect the engine room, and Boynes consented. While inspecting the engine room, Janssen and Piazza found approximately fifty gallons of oil on thefloor in the front of the engine room measuring seven inches deep. The officers also found a diesel oil leak on a fuel line. However, they did not take a sample of the various leaking substances since they lacked a sample jar. As a result of the consensual search, Janssen revoked the Mona Queen's certificate of inspection and ordered repair of the leaks and removal of the fuel and oil. The officers also reminded Boynes to bring his vessel to the Marine Safety Detachment Office in St. Thomas at 1:00 p.m. that day.
Boynes arrived at the Marine Safety Detachment Office at 1:20 p.m. without the Mona Queen, which he said was in Nanny Cay, a shipyard in the British Virgin Islands. Piazza read Boynes his Miranda rights, and, subsequently, Boynes
signed a form waiving his Miranda rights. Boynes then gave a voluntary statement regarding the pollution incident. Boynes speculated that someone in the vessel wheelhouse accidentally flipped the switch controlling the bilge pump. Upon hearing that the Mona Queen was under repair in the British Virgin Islands, the officers were concerned that repairs on the boat would be accomplished before they had the opportunity to take samples of the leaking substances. The officers instructed Boynes to discontinue further ...