Each year, hundreds of individuals wanted by American law enforcement are provisionally arrested across the world on request of the U.S. government. After extradition proceedings which last from several weeks to several years the vast majority of these fugitives are extradited to the United States to face criminal charges in federal and state courts. The fugitives always have legal representation by local attorneys throughout the extradition process but having an American criminal attorney as co-counsel to the local lawyer can actually make a tremendous impact on the outcome of the case.
In our experience, non-American attorneys handling extraditions to the United States too often fail to utilize the experience of an American lawyer to assist their client in the application of American law. Too often, clients wait until an Order of Extradition is signed before they reach out to an American lawyer for assistance.
By the time a fugitive is extradited, it is generally too late for a U.S. attorney to offer help as effectively as could have been possible had the U.S. attorney been involved in the case earlier. The U.S. Department of Justice knows this and will act aggressively to convince foreign courts to grant extradition requests. We have seen cases were in doing so they misrepresent American (and extradition law) to the foreign courts because they know there is no American lawyer to contradict that which they say in foreign court. Most foreign courts will all too often accept the statements of fact and conclusions of law offered to them by the U.S. Department of Justice, without ever testing whether those statements of fact and/or law are true and correct. Oftentimes, those statements are either false or so slanted as to be a complete misrepresentation of American jurisprudence.
A local defense attorney who has an American lawyer at his side may be able to raise objections to the U.S. government’s representation of the case making extradition much more difficult.
For example, the government may represent that a fugitive is wanted on money laundering or fraud charges, extraditable offenses. However, the defense may argue that the case actually involves tax liability, a non-extraditable offense under many extradition treaties. Facing the prospect of lengthy and expensive extradition battle, the government may agree to dismiss some more serious charges so that the fugitive will be prosecuted for other, less serious offenses, facing much milder penalties.
Another benefit of having a US criminal lawyer involved early is that in most federal cases the government always has a head start. By the time a person is arrested, the government has all the evidence and the defense must scramble to catch up. In extradition cases, even if the fugitive has been indicted, federal prosecutors don’t really pay much attention to the case before the fugitive has been brought into the U.S. The defense however may get a good grip on the case during the time the extradition process is pending. That will make the job of defending the criminal case in America much easier.
In these circumstances, even if fugitives lose the extradition battle, as it happens most of the time, they can either limit the scope of their prosecution in the United States or get a significant benefit of being well prepared to defend their case. Losing the battle doesn’t mean losing the war!