Good morning to Captain and crew alike, and welcome to The Admiralty Docket. Today, we look into maritime jurisdiction and law enforcement.
Clients often want to know which authorities have jurisdiction to enforce laws on the water in and around Charleston. Local law enforcement officers have jurisdiction over the geographical area designated in the charter or enabling legislation creating their local government. Local law enforcement jurisdiction goes to the boundary line, regardless of whether the line is on land or in the middle of the river. Of course, law enforcement officers in hot pursuit may follow a suspect beyond their jurisdiction and arrest him. Federal law enforcement authorities will have concurrent geographical jurisdiction. For instance, the U.S. Coast Guard may exercise jurisdiction on Shem Creek, as may Mt. Pleasant Police, or Charleston County Sheriff Deputies, or SLED agents, or the U.S. Marshal Service.
On the other hand, how far does South Carolina’s criminal and civil jurisdiction extend seaward? Three nautical miles. Now. How far does the jurisdiction of the United States extend seaward? Generally, the answer is . . . three nautical miles. This was for years the extent of the U. S. territorial sea and the limit of U.S. jurisdiction over foreign citizens and foreign flag vessels. Generally, criminal jurisdiction over U. S. flag vessels and U. S. citizens was extended in 1925 to cover the high seas as well as U. S. waters by a statute which defines the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the U.S.
The Convention on the High Seas, ratified by the U.S. in 1962, defines the high seas as “all parts of the sea not included in the territorial sea or In the internal waters of a state.” The Convention does provide an exception for foreign flag vessels and arguably repeals inconsistent provisions of the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction statute. Although President Reagan extended the United States territorial sea from 3 to 12 miles in 1988, this extension was specifically limited to National Security purposes only. The Presidential Proclamation states that domestic laws are unaffected by this extension.
More next week on The Admiralty Docket. Until then, may God Almighty grant you pleasant sailing.
If you have a question about admiralty or maritime law, please contact our Mount Pleasant, South Carolina office by telephone or Email for a free, confidential consultation with no obligation.
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From our law office in Mount Pleasant, John Hughes Cooper, P.C. handles admiralty law and maritime law cases throughout coastal South Carolina (the Lowcountry), the Pee Dee region, communities surrounding Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, and elsewhere in the Southeast. The communities we serve include Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Georgetown, Beaufort, Hilton Head, North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Edisto Island, Walterboro, Pawley's Island, Murrells Inlet, Little River, Conway, Columbia, Florence, Charleston County, Georgetown County, Berkeley County, Beaufort County, Horry County, Jasper County and Colleton County.

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