In deference to the concept of double jeopardy, Europe’s top court ruled that EU citizens should not face extradition on international arrest warrants for crimes that have been disposed of by European courts.
(CN) — Europe’s top court ruled Wednesday that someone who’s been prosecuted in one European Union state should not face arrest and extradition to a nation outside the bloc for the same crimes.
The European Court of Justice’s decision came in a case involving a German man facing extradition to the United States on charges of corruption, money laundering and fraud even though he had paid fines in Germany in connection with the same charges.
Wednesday’s ruling by the court’s Grand Chamber was largely in line with an advisory opinion issued in November by a magistrate at the court, Advocate General Michal Bobek, who said the legal principle of double jeopardy should apply both within the EU and outside it. Most jurisdictions worldwide have adopted the principle that prevents someone from being tried for the same crime twice after a valid verdict has been rendered.
The German citizen was identified only by the initials WS and the court documents did not discuss the details of the allegations against him.
In 2012, Interpol issued a so-called red notice for the arrest of WS on behalf of the U.S. Red notices are issued before extradition hearings take place.
But German authorities had already investigated WS over the same allegations and ended criminal proceedings against him after he paid fines.
In 2013, Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Police issued an addendum to the red notice stating that the principle of double jeopardy applied to the criminal case of WS. German authorities also asked the U.S. to withdraw the red notice, something the U.S. refused to do initially.
In 2017, WS sued the Federal Office of Criminal Police in a German administrative court, demanding it remove the red notice against him. He argued he was at risk of being arrested elsewhere in Europe if he left Germany because he had been placed on wanted lists and could face prosecution for the same crimes he had been prosecuted for in Germany.
In June 2019, the administrative court in Wiesbaden, where WS filed his lawsuit, turned to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice to settle the legal questions in his suit.
In September 2019, the U.S. withdrew the red notice for the arrest of WS, but he argued that he continued to face the threat of another red notice being issued against him.
On Wednesday, the EU’s high court ruled that WS should be allowed to travel through the bloc without fear of arrest.
Still, the court was careful to point out that double jeopardy applies to arrests on red notices only when “it is established, in a final judicial decision … that the trial of that person in respect of the same acts as those on which that red notice is based has already been finally disposed of.”
The ruling noted that “it has not been established that the red notice” issued in 2012 for the arrest of WS “concerned the same acts as those in respect of which WS’s trial had been finally disposed of.”
Several European nations – including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic – objected to the Court of Justice taking up the case, arguing that WS’s situation should not be applied across the EU. They also argued that EU treaties, which include provisions against double jeopardy, cannot be seen as applying to jurisdictions outside the EU.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.