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International Extradition Laws and Process

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Extradition laws give a nation the ability to hand over someone to another nation for purposes of criminal trial or punishment. Whether someone can be extradited depends on the laws of the countries involved and whether there's an extradition treaty in place. Extradition can also take place within the United States in a state-to-state extradition. However, this article focuses on the process for international extraditions.

International Extradition: The Basics

An extradition treaty is an agreement between two countries to extradite to each other persons who've been charged or found guilty of an extraditable offense. The United States has extradition treaties with more than 100 countries as well as with the European Union.

Extraditable offenses generally include crimes that are punishable in both countries by at least one-year imprisonment. These offenses include the attempt or conspiracy to commit an extraditable offense. Special inclusion for extraditable offenses are matters that involve taxes, custom duties, and foreign exchange offenses.

The treaties often exclude the extradition of a national of the requested state. For instance, the United States will not, in most cases, extradite one of its own citizens to another country. This non-extradition of a country's own citizens explains why Roman Polanski was able to evade extradition. Polanski was convicted of having sexual intercourse with a 13 year-old in the United States, but he fled to France before sentencing. Because Mr. Polanski is a French citizen, France refused to extradite him.

There are other scenarios where extradition can be refused. Many nations may refuse to extradite people who may face torture or the death penalty in the requesting nation. For example, when serial killer Charles Ng fled to Canada after torturing, raping, and murdering at least 12 people, Canada struggled with whether or not to extradite Ng. They had abolished capital punishment and did not want to extradite someone who would be facing the death penalty in the country requesting extradition.

In the end, Canada decided to extradite him to California largely because they didn't want to become a safe haven for murderers from the United States. Canada could have demanded that Ng would not face the death penalty, but they extradited him without such an assurance.

International Extradition Process

The extradition process is described in U.S. federal law (18 U.S.C. ยง3184). When the United States wants to extradite someone who is residing in a foreign country with an extradition treaty, a complaint is filed in any U.S. court stating the charges and the treaty requirements. A warrant for the persons apprehension will be prepared and given to the Secretary of State who will then contact the foreign government to begin the international extradition process.

The receiving nation then looks to its treaty obligations to the requesting nation and to its own laws on extradition, and decides whether or not to extradite. Many nations do not extradite individuals for certain political crimes. These can include treason, sedition, espionage and alleged crimes relating to criticism of political leaders.

International Extradition Without a Treaty

In countries with no extradition treaty with the United States, it's still possible to extradite someone. In these cases, the United States must negotiate with the non-extradition treaty country, but they can say no.

For instance, Edward Snowden faced theft and espionage charges in the United States for disclosing classified information, but fled to Russia. There's no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia which, in effect, shielded him from prosecution.

This is also what happened with Julian Assange, who'd taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Ecuador does not have an extradition treaty with the United States and had refused to surrender him to U.S. authorities. Conceivably, Assange could have remained in the embassy until his death, but Ecuador became unhappy with his behavior and withdrew its asylum prior to his arrest by London police.

Learn More About International Extradition Laws by Talking to an Attorney

There are several complex requirements that must be followed with international extraditions. It can be difficult to fight, but it's not a foregone conclusion and there are defenses that you can utilize. The good news is that you don't have to go through this process alone. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights and ensure that you present the best possible defense.

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