Monday, March 09, 2015

Munoz Santos v. Thomas (9th Cir. - March 9, 2015)

I appreciate Judge Nguyen's concise explanation of how federal extradition works.  Because until today, I understood the concept, but was entirely ignorant of the details.

It's a straightforward concept, but its statutory implementation seems a bit funky in places.  The basics are simple:

Step One:  Some other country (say, Mexico) asks the U.S. to extradite someone;
Step Two:  The State Department decides whether to say "Okay;" if so;
Step Three:   The U.S. Attorney files for an arrest warrant for the dude in federal district court;
Step Four:  The district judge decides whether there's probable cause to extradite the guy; and, if so;
Step Five:  The warrant issues, the dude's picked up, and off to the other country he goes.

The judicial complexity comes in Step Four.  The relevant statute says that the "probable cause" proceeding is a fairly limited affair.  The government comes in with whatever evidence it wants to prove that there's good reason to believe that the person has committed an extraditable offense.  The defendant, however, can only present evidence that “explains away or completely obliterates probable cause . . . whereas evidence that merely controverts the existence of probable cause, or raises a defense, is not admissible."

You can figure out the problem.  The difference between admissible “explanatory” or “obliterating” evidence and inadmissible “contradictory” evidence is amorphous.  When is evidence the former, and when the latter?

Judge Nguyen doesn't have to totally resolve this issue.  She just holds that a guy's recantation -- and claim that his testimony was adduced under torture -- falls in the second category.  A complete demarcation of what type of stuff falls in each category awaits another case.