What is Extradition?

by | Jul 26, 2022 | extradition, international fugitive, US extradition | 2 comments

Extradition is the formal process involving one state surrendering a person to a different state for prosecution for crimes. Extradition involves a treaty between two countries and, most importantly, a person who is on the run.

What is an Extradition Treaty?

An Extradition treaty describes the transfer of an accused person from one country to another, seeking the person to stand trial. When a treaty comes into effect, an extradition warrant is issued to arrest the fugitive and transport them to the country demanding them.

Treaties signed these recent years have a dual criminality approach, which lists all the crimes that can be extraditable and punishable between the two countries. However, previous extradition treaties would only list the offenses to which they would agree to extradite a person. In addition, most extraditions only allow for crimes that attract a sentence of more than one year.

Treaties also provide occasions when extradition may be denied. Generally, most authorities do not extradite individuals for any military or political offenses, except when there is a case of terrorism or violence. Other states do not deport accused people to places where capital punishment is probable unless the demanding state or country promises not to impose such as punishment.

U.S. Extradition

Extradition from the United States

This extradition process starts with the foreign government asking the United States State Department through treaty paperwork. The information involves:

  • The person they want
  • The offenses charged
  • The documents used to charge them
  • Their arrest warrants
  • The evidence they have against the defendant

When these foreign authorities feel the person is a flight risk, they may ask for a provisional arrest and detention before they get the necessary material. The secretary of state then forwards this request to the Department of Justice, who will review the compliance with treaty regulations, contact an arrest warrant, take the fugitive to custody, and then appear before a judge. First, the court decides whether there is probable cause for the offense stipulated in the treaty. Where there is probable cause, the matter goes back to the secretary of state, who decides whether to extradite or not.

Extradition to the United States

A federal or state prosecutor meets with the relevant agency to decide whether the crime is worth the cost of extradition. The prosecutor will then prepare an application to send to the Department of Justice to determine the sufficiency. Upon approval, the State Department will send a request to the U.S. embassy, which will forward the request to the country’s authorities in question. After that, depending on the country involved, the process may vary. Finally, when the request is approved, the U.S. Marshals Service escorts the fugitive back to the United States.

Rules of Extradition in the United States

The process is outlined in the constitution. According to the Federal Code of Laws at 18 U.S. Code Chapter 209, some rules are necessary for extradition law to apply;

  • The extradition documents need to be in order and contain all essential details
  • The accused person must be charged with a crime in the demanding country or state.
  • The person named in the extradition request has to be the person charged with the crime
  • The petitioner should be from the requesting country or state

Extradition Between Countries

The countries work primarily between themselves, using extradition treaties. If the United States wants to extradite, they file a complaint with a U.S. court and provide charges and treaty requirements. Then, the warrant is issued to the Secretary of State to contact the foreign government where the fugitive is residing for the international extradition process.

Some countries do not extradite. Some countries that do not have an extradition treaty with the United States include China, Russia, Bahrain, Namibia, and North Korea. Nevertheless, these countries still have the power to negotiate the extradition of a fugitive with other countries. In such cases, however, the country where the accused is residing may choose to reject the request. A famous case is Edward Snowden of the United States, who took refuge in Russia after being charged with theft and espionage. Considering the two countries have no extradition treaty, Snowden escaped prosecution.

Examples of Extradition

Famous Hollywood director Roman Polanski has been on the run from the United States since he was charged with child trafficking in the 1970s. Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in 2009, but the Swiss justice ministry rejected a request by the United States to extradite him. They refused to extradite the fugitive because the legal records supplied did not meet the required standards, and Polanski had traveled to Switzerland in good faith.

As a result, the convicted child predator has avoided sentencing in the United States by avoiding both the U.S. and all countries with extradition treaties with the United States.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been a man on the run most of his adult life. His first stance with extradition was in 1984 when he fled his home country Liberia to the United States after being accused of embezzling more than $900,000 in government funds. The Liberian government placed a request to the United States, and Taylor was consequently detained in a Boston Prison as the United States considered the extradition request. However, he escaped prison a year later.


Extradition is a formal process describing a request by one government to surrender a particular person who has taken refuge in a different country for them to be prosecuted for crimes they committed in the requesting country. The extradition process has its basis in the constitution of any country that participates in the process. Extradition treaties are rules and regulations governing extradition operations between countries. In the United States, these rules and regulations are stipulated in The Federal Code of Laws at 18 U.S. Code, Chapter 209. Additionally, rather than extradition between the United States and other countries, states within the United States can practice extradition among themselves.