Fighting extradition back to the United States: The basics

Every day, across the United States, a percentage of people who are suspected of committing crimes, and know that they are wanted by law enforcement, (or have been released on bail or on their own recognizance) attempt to evade arrest, or delay proceedings, by relocating to other cities, counties, states, or countries.

Individuals who have fled may enter another country undetected, or be nabbed at the border by customs and immigration agents of the foreign state. If the suspect manages to bypass detection at the border, they may engage in another crime (typically a petty one like shoplifting), get arrested, and after their name (including other identifying details) is run through on or more appropriate databases (e.g., Interpol), the local police notice that there is an outstanding warrant for them back in the United States.

And so starts a long involved judicial process. The United States government is contacted, and an extradition warrant is issued. This situation is framed by the following facts.

It’s in the best interests of the foreign government to return the person to the United States to face trial as soon as possible, as it’s costing them resources (i.e., a prison cell, feeding the person, time for their legal department to process paperwork, etc.).

But they are not going to immediately ship the suspect back home if there is a possibility that the individual is going receive the death penalty or that the prison conditions in the state or federal bureau of prisons violate national, regional and international human rights standards that they are signatories to.

Most foreign nationals, who are in this situation, try to block their extradition back to the United States. If they are not able to do this themselves, which is usually the case, it’s primarily their loved ones (typically parents or spouses) who hire private attorneys, or legal aid lawyers in the guest country who do this work.

The loved ones, (who are formally known clients), in the United States, usually have little experience in these matters and few economic resources try to find an interested and competent lawyer/law firm. Few lawyers/law firms, however, have experience in international extradition matters and the ones that do can be quite pricey. This can set up lots of frustrating dynamics for the suspects, loved ones and the lawyers. In general, in these matters, you get what you pay for. If the law firm that is chosen lacks expertise it will mean a lot of wasted resources (i.e., time, money, emotional anguish, etc.).

Once the client makes a decision about which legal counsel to use, the lawyer/law firm takes a retainer, and then starts gathering evidence and filing forms. During this process, they may partner with a lawyer or law firm in the foreign country. They may also subcontract with a number of experts (i.e., death penalty, corrections, psychologists/psychiatrists, doctors, etc.)

One of the ways that legal council fight extradition is by delaying the process as much as legally possible. In this situation, delay is your friend. It gives the defense more time to put on a spirited defense.

The passage of time also increases the possibility that memory of witnesses to the alleged crime/s will fade, and they may forget important details of the case; they may even pass away or in the case of law enforcement, may change jobs, quit policing, or be convicted of a crime and thus their reliability as a witness may be jeopardized. All this typically works to the accused benefit.

If there is a possibility that the suspect may be sentenced to the death penalty, then the competent lawyer may also be able to negotiate this off the table.

On the other hand, clients sometimes hire a legal professional who is not a good fit to assist them. This scenario often leads to bad advice, poor legal strategy, considerable confusion, unnecessary emotional turmoil, and wasted resources.

On rare occasions the defense can prevent the extradition of an individuals who is wanted for extradition from being sent back to the United States.

But the reality is that sooner or later the person under whose name the extradition has been issued, will most likely be returned to the United States to face trial. A competent lawyer/law firm, with the assistance of appropriate subcontracted expertise, however, can manage the process in order to minimize the legal consequences that the accused will eventually face.