If someone is suspected of committing a crime, they may try and leave the country to avoid a trial or punishment. However, if they go to a country that has an extradition agreement with the United States, they may find themselves turned over to U.S. custody. Some countries do not have extradition treaties with the U.S., others place limitations on who can be extradited. In some cases, a country may not turn over a suspect until the U.S. guarantees that the defendant will not face the death penalty.
Some suspects flee the country because they fear they will not get a fair trial, and look for humanitarian relief abroad. The United States is still one of the only developed countries that still utilized the death penalty. Because of the harsh penalties a suspect may face if tried in the U.S., they should seek experienced legal counsel before they are returned to the United States.
Extradition is the formal process where a suspect wanted in the United States is found in another country, and the foreign country turns the suspect over to U.S. authorities to face charges. It is a cooperative process between the two countries, and because it involves two different countries, extradition is regulated by treaty. These treaties also cover the process for extraditing individuals from the United States.
For federal prosecutors seeking extradition, the process involves contacting the Office of International Affairs (OIA); making a preliminary determination of whether the individual can be extradited; deciding whether to ask the foreign country to arrest the suspect; and submitting documentation in support of the formal extradition request.
Extradition requests may be sensitive, given the individual suspect, or the relationship between the United States and the foreign country. This is why federal criminal charges are reviewed first by the Office of International Affairs for approval. The OIA may decide against an extradition request if they deem the diplomatic issues to be troublesome. For example, even though the United States has extradition treaties with Venezuela or Ecuador,
Some of the factors that go into a determination of extraditability include:
- Location of the suspect, if known, and whether the U.S. has a treaty with the country;
- Citizenship of the suspect, or whether they have dual citizenship;
- Criminal offenses the suspect has been charged with or convicted of;
- State of the case, whether a warrant was issued, a complaint filed, or indictment returned;
- Facts of the case, including location and date of the alleged offense;
- Whether the case still has the potential for a trial; and
- Time restrictions on preparing the required supporting documentation.
The U.S. has extradition treaties with over 120 countries. However, the specifics of each treaty varies by country. Some countries, like Israel, will not allow extradition of Israeli citizens to the U.S. Other treaties have an exemption for fugitives facing ‘political offenses.' Many of the extradition treaties allow the foreign country to deny extradition if they would face the death penalty.
Limited Extradition Agreements With the U.S.
Even though the U.S. has extradition treaties with most countries, there are still almost 75 countries with no extradition agreement with the U.S. This includes countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, including some of the most populous countries in the world such as China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Russia.
However, as recent cases have shown, even if a country has an extradition treaty with the U.S., they may choose not to turn the suspect over to U.S. custody.
In 2013, Edward Snowden was charged with theft, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications. At the time, Snowden was in Hong Kong. U.S. officials asked Hong Kong to arrest Snowden on a provisional warrant. However, the Hong Kong-U.S. extradition treaty has an exception for political offenses.
Instead of arresting Snowden, he was allowed to leave Hong Kong for Russia. According to the Hong Kong government, the provision arrest documents did not fully comply with Hong Kong law. Most recently, Snowden remains in Russia, where the U.S. does not have an extradition agreement.
Extradition Defense Attorneys
If you are facing extradition, there may be a number of defenses available to make sure you are not convicted or sentenced in the U.S. You may need a foreign attorney to fight extradition, but you should contact experienced U.S.-based federal criminal defense lawyers to handle your case at home. They may be able to help negotiate a deal, for you to return to the U.S. without facing the maximum criminal sentence. They may also advise you on how best to fight your criminal charges, so you can avoid a conviction, and resume your normal life.
Instead of risking a life on the run, you can fight your criminal charges or challenge your criminal sentencing. If you or a loved one is facing federal criminal charges in the U.S., extradition to the United States may prevent you from getting a fair trial. Before returning to the country, you should talk to an experienced federal defense attorney about your case. Your lawyers will be able to identify all available defenses, answer any questions you have, and represent you in court, to make sure you are treated fairly under the law.