504 U.S. 655 (1992), United States v. Alvarez-Machain

Citation:504 U.S. 655, 112 S.Ct. 2188, 119 L.Ed.2d 441, 60 U.S.L.W. 4523
Party Name:United States v. Alvarez-Machain
Case Date:June 15, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 655

504 U.S. 655 (1992)

112 S.Ct. 2188, 119 L.Ed.2d 441, 60 U.S.L.W. 4523

United States



United States Supreme Court

June 15, 1992




Respondent, a citizen and resident of Mexico, was forcibly kidnapped from his home and flown by private plane to Texas, where he was arrested for his participation in the kidnapping and murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent and the agent's pilot. After concluding that DEA agents were responsible for the abduction, the District Court dismissed the indictment on the ground that it violated the Extradition Treaty between the United States and Mexico (Extradition Treaty or Treaty), and ordered respondent's repatriation. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Based on one of its prior decisions, the court found that, since the United States had authorized the abduction, and since the Mexican government had protested the Treaty violation, jurisdiction was improper.

Held: The fact of respondent's forcible abduction does not prohibit his trial in a United States court for violations of this country's criminal laws. Pp. 659-670.

(a) A defendant may not be prosecuted in violation pf the terms of an extradition treaty. United States v. Rauscher, 119 U.S. 407. However, when a treaty has not been invoked, a court may properly exercise jurisdiction even though the defendant's presence is procured by means of a forcible abduction. Ker v. Illinois, 119 U.S. 436. Thus, if the Extradition Treaty does not prohibit respondent's abduction, the rule of Ker applies and jurisdiction was proper. Pp. 659-662.

(b) Neither the Treaty's language nor the history of negotiations and practice under it supports the proposition that it prohibits abductions outside of its terms. The Treaty says nothing about either country refraining from forcibly abducting people from the other's territory or the consequences if an abduction occurs. In addition, although the Mexican government was made aware of the Ker doctrine as early as 1906, and language to curtail Ker was drafted as early as 1935, the Treaty's current version contains no such clause. Pp. 663-666.

(c) General principles of international law provide no basis for interpreting the Treaty to include an implied term prohibiting international abductions. It would go beyond established precedent and practice to draw such an inference from the Treaty based on respondent's argument that abductions are so clearly prohibited in international law that there

Page 656

was no reason to include the prohibition in the Treaty itself. It was the practice of nations with regard to extradition treaties that formed the basis for this Court's decision in Rauscher, supra, to imply a term in the extradition treaty between the United States and England. Respondent's argument, however, would require a much larger inferential leap with only the most general of international law principles to support it. While respondent may be correct that his abduction was "shocking" and in violation of general international law principles, [112 S.Ct. 2190] the decision whether he should be returned to Mexico, as a matter outside the Treaty, is a matter for the Executive Branch. Pp. 666-670.

946 F.2d 1466 (CA9 1991), reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 670.

Page 657

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether a criminal defendant, abducted to the United States from a nation with which it has an extradition treaty, thereby acquires a defense to the jurisdiction of this country's courts. We hold that he does not, and that he may be tried in federal district court for violations of the criminal law of the United States.

Respondent, Humberto Alyarez-Machain, is a citizen and resident of Mexico. He was indicted for participating in the kidnap and murder of United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent Enrique Camarena-Salazar and a Mexican pilot working with Camarena, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar.[1] The DEA believes that respondent, a medical doctor, participated in the murder by prolonging agent Camarena's life so that others could further torture and interrogate him. On April 2, 1990, respondent was forcibly kidnapped from his medical office in Guadalajara, Mexico, to be flown by private plane to El Paso, Texas, where he was arrested by DEA officials. The District Court concluded that DEA agents were responsible for respondent's abduction, although they were not personally involved in it. United States v. Caro-Quintero, 745 F.Supp. 599, 602-604, 609 (CD Cal.1990).[2]

Page 658

Respondent moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming that his abduction constituted outrageous governmental conduct, and that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to try him because he was abducted in violation of the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. Extradition Treaty, May 4, 1978, [1979] United States-United Mexican States, 31 U.S.T. 5059, T.I.A.S. No. 9656 (Extradition Treaty or Treaty). The District Court rejected the outrageous governmental conduct claim, but held that it lacked jurisdiction to try respondent because his abduction violated the Extradition Treaty. The district court discharged respondent and ordered that he be repatriated to Mexico. Caro-Quintero, supra, at 614.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the indictment and the repatriation of respondent, relying on its decision in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 939 F.2d 1341 (CA9 1991), cert. pending, No. 91-670. 946 F.2d 1466 (1991). In Verdugo, the Court of Appeals held that the forcible abduction of a Mexican national with the authorization or [112 S.Ct. 2191] participation of the United States violated the Extradition Treaty between the United States and Mexico.[3] Although the Treaty does not expressly prohibit such abductions, the Court of Appeals held that the "purpose" of the Treaty was violated by a forcible abduction, 939 F.2d at 1350, which, along with a formal protest by the offended nation, would give a defendant the right to invoke the Treaty violation to defeat jurisdiction of the district court to try him.[4] The Court of Appeals further held that the proper remedy for

Page 659

such a violation would be dismissal of the indictment and repatriation of the defendant to Mexico.

In the instant case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's finding that the United States had authorized the abduction of respondent, and that letters from the Mexican government to the United States government served as an official protest of the Treaty violation. Therefore, the Court of Appeals ordered that the indictment against respondent be dismissed, and that respondent be repatriated to Mexico. 946 F.2d at 1467. We granted certiorari, 502 U.S. 1024 (1992), and now reverse.

Although we have never before addressed the precise issue raised in the present case, we have previously considered proceedings in claimed violation of an extradition treaty, and proceedings against a defendant brought before a court by means of a forcible abduction. We addressed the former issue in United States v. Rauscher, 119 U.S. 407 (1886); more precisely, the issue of whether the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, 8 Stat. 572, 576, which governed extraditions between England and the United States, prohibited the prosecution of defendant Rauscher for a crime other than the crime for which he had been extradited. Whether this prohibition, known as the doctrine of specialty, was an intended part of the treaty had been disputed between the two nations for some time. Rauscher, 119 U.S. at 411. Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the Court, which carefully examined the terms and history of the treaty; the practice of nations in regards to extradition treaties; the case law from the states; and the writings of commentators, and reached the following conclusion:

[A] person who has been brought within the jurisdiction of the court by virtue of proceedings under an extradition treaty, can only be tried for one of the offences described in that treaty, and for the offence with which he is charged in the proceedings for his extradition, until a reasonable time and opportunity have been given him,

Page 660

after his release or trial upon such charge, to return to the country from whose asylum he had been forcibly taken under those proceedings.

Id. at 430 (emphasis added). In addition, Justice Miller's opinion noted that any doubt as to this interpretation was put to rest by two federal statutes which imposed the doctrine of specialty upon extradition treaties to which the United States was a party. Id. at 423.[5] Unlike the case before us today, the defendant in Rauscher had been brought to the [112 S.Ct. 2192] United States by way of an extradition treaty; there was no issue of a forcible abduction.

In Ker v. Illinois, 119 U.S. 436 (1886), also written by Justice Miller and decided the same day as Rauscher, we addressed the issue of a defendant brought before the court by way of a forcible abduction. Frederick Ker had been tried and convicted in an Illinois court for larceny; his presence before the court was procured by means of forcible abduction from Peru. A messenger was sent to Lima with the proper warrant to demand Ker by virtue of the extradition treaty between Peru and the United States. The messenger, however, disdained reliance on the treaty processes, and instead forcibly kidnapped Ker and brought him to the United States.[6] We...

To continue reading