The term “extradition” refers to the sending back of a person to his home country or state upon the discovery that he has committed a crime. For example, extradition occurs when State A receives a request from State B to return an individual to State B so he can appear for trial. A situation wherein this would occur is if a person committed a crime in New York and fled to Michigan; after which New York requested that Michigan return him for the purpose of facing those criminal charges. To explore this concept, consider the following extradition definition.
Definition of Extradition
- The act of returning a person to his home country or state for the purpose of trial upon the discovery that he has committed a crime.
1830 – 1840 French
Extradition Law in the U.S.
Extradition law in the U.S. is the transfer of a person living in the U.S. to another country or state for the purpose of trial or punishment. If the transfer involves another country, then the U.S. government communicates with the foreign government to arrange for the individual’s return. Certain states within the U.S. do not subscribe to the process of extradition law in the U.S. unless the crime is a serious felony. This is because the costs involved with transporting and housing the individual are not worth spending for either state.
Extradition between States
As far as crimes that warrant extradition between states, felonies involving violent or sexual offenses or serious incidents of driving while intoxicated always result in an extradition from any state within the U.S. However, some states do not consider certain minor crimes to be worth the extradition. For example, extradition in Florida, Alaska, or Hawaii does not extend to convictions for misdemeanors as of 2010.
What this means is that if, for instance, someone commits petty theft in Florida and flees to Idaho, Florida will likely not seek his extradition back to the state. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that Florida does not want to pay the fees involved with transporting the individual back to the proper jurisdiction, nor comping his housing fees while he is there.
Extradition between Countries
Extradition between countries, or international extradition, is what it sounds like: the process of transferring an individual from the U.S. back to the country that has ordered his return. The U.S. has extradition treaties, or agreements, with over 100 countries around the globe.
Extradition treaties are agreements that the U.S. makes with other countries for the purpose of extraditing individuals from the U.S. back to these countries if those individuals are suspects in a criminal investigation. An international extradition requires an extradition treaty in order to proceed. If no treaty is present, then the countries may rely on the laws or provisions that govern these processes instead.
The consensus is that each state has jurisdiction over those individuals within its borders and so does not have to turn over any individual by law. And even when no law is in place to govern such a transfer, a country may still request an individual’s return based on that country’s domestic laws. This is when a country will rely on immigration law to enforce the individual’s return. Many countries have laws on the books that allow for extradition to take place even between countries that have not previously agreed to an extradition treaty.
In certain situations, extradition blocks will prevent a country from returning the individual in question. Interestingly, no country has an extradition treaty with all the other countries. For instance, there are several countries with whom the U.S. has not signed an extradition treaty, including China, North Korea, and Bahrain.
Extradition blocks also exist in situations where a person’s human rights may be in jeopardy. Specifically, if Country A, where the individual presently resides, suspects his home country may subject him to poor treatment upon his return, Country A may refuse to hand him over.
Additional extradition blocks can include:
- Political crimes
- The possibility of certain types of punishment, such as the death penalty
- A person’s right to private and family life (the balance between the harm inflicted on a person’s private life and family versus the benefit to the public if he earns a conviction)
- Legal Jurisdiction
As far as the extradition process itself goes, one jurisdiction makes a request for the other jurisdiction to return the person in question. The law enforcement departments in both jurisdictions then work together to arrange for the person’s return to the “requesting state.” The police then arrest that person and hold him in custody until they can extradite him. The specific procedures involved with the extradition process vary depending on the laws of each state or country. It is common that the requesting state sends someone to escort the suspect back to their state.
Extradition Example with an Iowa Native in Puerto Rico
An example of extradition involving a court case concerns the matter of Puerto Rico v. Branstad, which the U.S. Supreme Court heard in 1987. Here, Ronald Calder, a native Iowan, was working in Puerto Rico when authorities charged him with attempted murder and first-degree murder.
These charges resulted from Calder hitting a couple with his car in Puerto Rico in 1981. While the husband survived, the wife, who was pregnant, did not, and witnesses said they saw Calder backing over her body several times after the initial hit.
Arrest and Extradition
After Puerto Rican authorities arrested Calder, he posted bail and fled to his home state of Iowa. When Calder did not appear for two hearings in his case in Puerto Rico, the authorities realized that Calder had most likely fled to his home in Iowa. They notified the Iowa police that Calder was a fugitive, and Calder eventually surrendered. The authorities released him, however, after he posted $20,000 bail.
The following month, the governor of Puerto Rico requested Calder’s extradition from the governor of Iowa. When the request reached a hearing, Calder’s lawyer testified that Calder, being white, would not receive a fair trial in Puerto Rico. The court ultimately denied the request for extradition, citing the lack of a reduction in the charges to a “more realistic charge” against Calder. Puerto Rico made a second request for Calder’s extradition, but the court ultimately denied that one, too.
Three years later, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico petitioned the Southern District Court of Iowa to order the governor to comply with Calder’s extradition. The District Court dismissed the case, and when the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower Court.
U.S. Supreme Court
The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, posed with the following question: do federal courts have the authority to order governors to comply with extradition requests?
Ultimately, the Court ruled unanimously that yes, they do. The Court even overturned one of its prior decisions, which until that point stripped federal courts of the power to enforce extradition. Here, the Court ruled that their previous decision was the “the product of another age,” and was therefore “fundamentally incompatible with more than a century of constitutional development.”
Specifically, the Court wrote:
“Kentucky v. Dennison is the product of another time. The conception of the relation between the States and the Federal Government there announced is fundamentally incompatible with more than a century of constitutional development. Yet this decision has stood while the world of which it was a part has passed away. We conclude that it may stand no longer. The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed.”
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Bail – The temporary release of an individual accused of a crime and awaiting trial. This often requires that he first pay a fee as a way to guarantee his appearance at future court dates.
- Jurisdiction – A territory in which the court has the right, power, and authority to administer justice by hearing and resolving conflicts.
- Treaty – A formal agreement between two countries.