Extradition 101

Unless you have been living in a cave in the Himalayas or too busy studying for finals, you have heard the name Julian Assange tossed around. For those who don’t know, Julian Assange is an Australian journalist who is best known as the editor of the whistle blowing website, WikiLeaks. Quite a few countries would like to charge Assange with crimes related to leaking secret information.

Under the modern international system, each county is sovereign within its own boundaries. This makes it difficult to arrest a person in one country for crimes committed in another. In such a case, the only way to get someone located in another country into your courtroom is to use that country’s authority to seize him and have him turned over. This process is called extradition and it requires an extradition treaty between the two countries.

So let’s say you would like to have someone extradited. How do you do this?

Look up the extradition treaty with the country in which the fugitive is hiding. Usually these treaties are individually negotiated with each country and each will likely contain different terms and procedures.

The U.S. Department of State’s website contains an electronic version of their publication, Treaties in Force. A simple browse will show you whether or not we have an extradition treaty with a certain country. Alternatively, you can look under 18 U.S.C. ยง 3181 which provides a list of countries along with their TAIS (Treaties and Other International Agreements) number, a UST citation (United States Treaty) or even its citation within the Statutes at Large (Stat.). If the treaty was entered into after 1967, you can obtain an electronic copy from the Library of Congress’s Thomas website. HeinOnline carries many older treaties.

Verify that the crime is included. Treaties specify which crimes for which they will extradite. As a general rule, countries won’t expedite unless the offense is illegal in the extraditing country, the crimes are considered political or military by nature, or if the fugitive is likely to face inhumane treatment which may include torture or the death sentence.

Draft and submit your petition. The treaty should give you instructions as to what you will need to include and to whom you must submit the petition.

Here I would normally say, “That’s about it,” but rarely is that “about it.” As with the Assange case, things can get complicated when you have more than one country seeking extradition for offense that may or may not be illegal.

For more information, see Congressional Research Service: Extradition To and From the United States: Overview of the Law and Recent Treaties by Michael Garcia, John Doyle.

W. Blake Wilson, Instructional and Research Services Librarian