In a win for prosecutors, a federal judge in Washington has ordered a Somali man be returned to government custody pending trial in a rare high seas piracy case.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday reversed a trial judge's order freeing the man, Ali Mohamed Ali, whom prosecutors contend served as a negotiator for Somali pirates. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, Janice Rogers Brown and Brett Kavanaugh directed the trial judge to issue an order returning Ali to custody.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle last month ordered Ali freed at the same time the judge gutted the prosecution case, dismissing some counts. The prosecution is the first in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concerning the negotiation and receipt of ransom money.
Huvelle was not inclined to keep Ali in federal custody as prosecutors challenged, on appeal, the dismissal of charges in the indictment. Ali had been ordered to home confinement, and he was to remain on an electronic monitoring system.
Prosecutors called Ali a flight risk and urged the appeals court to order Huvelle to return Ali to federal custody. The government's legal team said it feared Ali would flee to Somali, a country with which the government doesn’t share an extradition treaty.
A lawyer for Ali, Matthew Peed of Washington's Clinton & Peed, said in court papers last week in the D.C. Circuit that Ali would not have left the country.
Peed noted Huvelle's assessment of the case, whose facts the judge called "devastating" for the government. The judge predicted it will be difficult for the government to prevail. Ali, then, according to his lawyers, had no motive to leave the country.
"Absolutely nothing the government has proffered indicates that Ali has any desire or ability to flee these charges," Peed wrote in court papers. "On the contrary, Ali has a history of attending judicial proceedings and submitting himself to scrutiny without fear or flight."
The D.C. Circuit panel said the appeals court had earlier upheld a ruling that no condition would reasonably assure Ali's appearance in court. The circuit judges said Friday "the underlying reasons for this court’s prior decision remain substantially unchanged."