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Wife's Cruise Ship Death: Murder on the High Seas?

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By Caleb Groos on July 17, 2009 12:57 PM

Federal authorities have charged Robert McGill of Los Angeles with the murder of his wife Shirley McGill on a Carnival cruise ship. While domestic violence is far too common, the federal charge McGill faces -- murder on the high seas -- is fairly rare.

As reported by the Contra Costa Times, friends of the McGill's thought they were happily in love. The former highschool sweethearts reconnected and married in 2003. Both recently turned 55.

In fact, it was on Mr. McGill's 55th birthday that he is alleged to have slain his wife during a domestic dispute in their cabin aboard the ship.

So, how is "murder on the high seas" different from regular old murder? The biggest difference is that is comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Typically, states have jurisdiction over murder cases.

The federal jurisdiction that covers the high seas includes the high seas, as well as waters in US maritime jurisdiction (excluding waters under the jurisdiction of the states). It applies to any vessel on those waters which is owned (even in part) by the US, any US company or any US individual. Being aboard a Carnival ship on the high seas brought Robert McGill under federal jurisdiction.

This federal jurisdiction also applies to the skies, particularly to any aircraft flying over the high seas or over US waters (as long as its not owned by a foreign company or government).

The final frontier is also covered -- giving federal jurisdiction over US registered vessels for travelling to or navigating space (including the moon and other celestial bodies).

On a more terrestrial front, the same level of federal jurisdiction covers certain earthly areas, including:

  • land purchased for building forts, arsenals or stockyards;
  • any place outside of any nation's jurisdiction where an offense against a US national has been committed; and
  • any island, rock, or key containing deposits of guano, which may, at the discretion of the President, be considered appertaining to the US, amongst others.

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