Star Trek and Customs Law

Star Trek is usually outside the scope of this blog, since its fictional legal systems are a) quite a bit different from ours and b) not very well fleshed-out in any of the TV series or movies.  But previous guest author Larry Friedman has recently found a way to bring Star Trek and the law together on his Customs Law Blog, with a post about a customs ruling involving Star Trek toys.  Larry goes on to muse about the role of customs law in the Star Trek universe.  As it turns out, a check of a database of Star Trek transcripts finds a few references to cargo manifests, particularly on Deep Space Nine (unsurprising given the setting).  So while we don’t see a lot of customs law on Star Trek, it does exist.

11 responses to “Star Trek and Customs Law

  1. Pingback: Naomi Hinchen on Wizard Politics | Law and the Multiverse

  2. You might want a look at the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, as it delves a bit into customs/freight-transport issues related to that series’ titular space station in one or two sections of the book.

  3. Cargo manifests don’t prove the existence of customs laws… they just show that someone is keeping track of what cargo is where, which the shipping company has abundant reason to do even when not crossing a customs border.

    • That’s true, but we have other evidence that suggests the manifests exist for legal reasons. Consider this exchange from the DS9 episode “The Ship”, slightly abridged:

      KIRA: Would someone please tell me what’s going on here?
      ODO: Quark brought aboard a shipment of Regalian fleaspiders without an import permit.
      QUARK: He asked for them!
      BASHIR: The spiders were for you, Major. I can synthesise a drug from their venom that should improve your circulation. But I didn’t know I needed a permit to import them.
      KIRA: So what’s the problem? Fill out the paperwork.
      ODO: It’s not that simple any more. It seems that Quark took the opportunity to import illegal Regalian liquid crystals along with the fleaspiders. The crystals are a highly intoxicating and sometimes dangerous aphrodisiac.
      QUARK: What’s love without danger?
      KIRA: I don’t have time for this. I just spoke with Captain Sisko. They found a crashed Jem’Hadar ship in the Gamma Quadrant. They need the Defiant right away. I’ll be back in about a week.
      BASHIR: When do we leave?
      KIRA: I’m leaving right away. I’d say you have some legal problems to work out.

      So here we see import permits, controlled substances that are illegal to import, and a direct statement that this is a legal issue.

  4. While DS9 gives some interesting insight into ‘Star Trek’ customs law, it’s worth mentioning that while the Federation was operating DS9, the station was actually operated *under* the laws of Bajor, and it was in Bajorian space(1). The Federation was just helping repair and run the place in the aftermath of the Occupation. (And by ‘help’, the Federation means ‘establish a presence so that, legally, if the Cardassians come back and start shooting, they just started a war with the Federation’.)

    Hence the reason that Odo is in charge of local crime stuff…he’s basically the ‘sheriff’ of the station, although appointed by Bajor. Or maybe more like the marshall. There was an episode about the clash between Worf, who used to do security for the Enterprise, and Odo after Worf showed up. Odo has to explain the station isn’t under military law, in fact, it’s not even under Federation law, and thus there’s a lot more due process stuff he has to do than on a Starfleet starship.

    1) This, incidentally, seems to be what the ‘Deep Space’ designation means…it’s nothing to do with distance, despite that being the obvious assumption. It’s just what they call Federation-run space stations outside Federation space. Bajor, strictly speaking, wasn’t that *far* from the Federation, considering it wasn’t that far from Cardassia , and the Federation and Cardassia had a shared border.

    • Melanie Koleini

      I agree with your analyze. However, there is other evidence of Federation Customs law. Romulan ale is technically banned in the Federation (much like Cuban cigars in the US).

  5. As a related aside, I remember a TNG episode involving a “deal with the devil”, in which Picard is desperately looking for precedents he can cite to the local Court to get his argument going. I always wanted an episode where the Enterprise crew comes armed with a boatload of precedents ready to cite, only to discover that the planet runs on the Roman Law model and precedents are worthless…

  6. Going old-school, Harcourt Fenton Mudd is a wanted criminal, because he is a smuggler.

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