On February 24, 2011, the British High Court ordered Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden to face charges for sex-related crimes in that country. In its ruling, the Court disagreed with Assange's claim that he couldn't get a fair trial in Sweden and found that extradition didn't violate his human rights.
Assange was given seven days to appeal the Court's decision, and his attorneys say they will do so.
Sometimes, when a person commits a crime, or is accused of one, the impulse to run and hide takes over. The person may run to another state or even as far as another country, anywhere to avoid prosecution and possible jail time. The law has an answer for situations like these, making sure - in most cases - people answer for their crimes.
Extradition is the process used to bring criminals and suspects back to the scene of the crime. It's a two-way street. People may be extradited to and from the US and to and from particular states. The process for both is basically the same:
- The fugitive is located and arrested in another state or country (or jurisdiction)
- The state or country where the crime was committed asks the other jurisdiction to send the fugitive back
- The fugitive either agrees to extradition, or the other jurisdiction holds an extradition hearing to make sure the other state or country has probable cause the fugitive committed a crime and should be sent back
Extradition to and from the US is controlled by treaties - special agreements between the US government and the governments of other countries across the globe.
The US has extradition treaties with over 100 countries, including the United Kingdom. That's where WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange finds himself in an extradition hearing. Sweden has asked that he be returned to that county to face sexual assault charges there.
It's possible, too, that the US may ask for Assange's extradition if federal prosecutors indict him for crimes related to the massive information leaks on his web site. The US, like the United Kingdom, has an extradition treaty with Sweden.
The US doesn't have treaties with several countries, including China and North Korea. A criminal suspect wanted in the US could hide-out there forever, technically. And even with countries where there is a treaty, extradition isn't always guaranteed.
The treaty itself may give a country the right to refuse extradition if:
- Prosecution of the fugitive could lead to the death penalty. The US-Mexico treaty gives both countries this option
- The fugitive is a citizen or national of the country holding him. Again, the US-Mexico treaty gives both countries this option
- The fugitive is accused of political crime, such as treason. Most extradition treaties contain this right of refusal, and it could block any attempt of extraditing Assange to the US
The power - and duty - of the states to extradite criminals and suspects to other states comes directly from the US Constitution. Basically, if someone commits a crime in State A (or jumps bail or violates probation) and runs to State B and is arrested there, State A may demand that State B return the fugitive.
As a general rule, State B will return the fugitive unless:
- State B finds, after a hearing, that State A doesn't have probable cause to believe the fugitive committed a crime. This is very rare
- The fugitive committed a crime in State B and that state wants to prosecute the fugitive. This also is rare, but it may happen when the crime in State B is very serious. In most cases, State B will extradite the fugitive and then prosecute him later
We all know crime doesn't pay. The extradition laws and process make sure criminals can't run and hide from the law.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Are there any time limits after which a person can't be extradited?
- Why would a fugitive ever agree to extradition to another state?
- How can a US citizen under arrest in a foreign country find a US attorney to fight an extradition request?
- Once extradited, can someone be charged with additional federal or state crimes that aren't related to crime leading to the extradition?