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When an allegedly criminal act is performed by an alien on foreign soil courts in the United States have long held that if jurisdiction is to be extended over that act, it must be supported by either the Protective or the Objective territorial theory. Under the protective theory, a country's legislature is competent to enact laws and, assuming physical power over the defendant, its courts have jurisdiction to enforce criminal laws wherever and by whomever the act is performed that threatens the country's security or directly interferes with its governmental operations. The objective territorial theory looks not to interference with governmental interests but to objective effects within the sovereign state. The theory requires that before a state may attach criminal consequences to an extraterritorial act, the act must be intended to have an effect within the state.
Francesco Columba-Colella was arrested by Mexican police for brokering a stolen car transaction, the car having been stolen in Texas and brokered in Mexico. Columba-Colella was a British citizen residing in Mexico. Columba-Colella moved to dismiss the charge against him. After the lower court denied the request, he pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the jurisdictional issue.
Did the lower court have jurisdiction over the case?
The court reversed Columba-Colella’s conviction and dismissed the charge against him. The court found that there was no basis for jurisdiction over Columba-Colella. He was not a United States citizen. He had not threatened the security of the country, or interfered with its governmental function. The court held that because Columba-Colella’s acts were beyond the court's competence to proscribe, Congress did not intend to assert jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C.S. § 2313.