Mexico Loses Belated Extradition Request

     (CN) – Mexico must justify its six-year delay in seeking an alleged murderer’s extradition in the face of the constitutional speedy trial protections of the United States, a divided Sixth Circuit ruled.
     Avelino Cruz Martinez has been living in the United States since the 1980s, and became a naturalized citizen in 2010.
     But before becoming a citizen, Martinez allegedly shot and killed two men in the small village of Santa Maria Natividad in Oaxaca, Mexico at a New Year’s Eve party in 2005.
     Martinez’s family entered into an agreement to pay one of the victim’s families 50,000 pesos in compensation for the homicide. The agreement was signed by the town clerk.
     Unbeknownst to either party, however, a cousin of the victim reported the murder to the Oaxacan attorney general, and a warrant was issued for Martinez’s arrest.
     Meanwhile, Martinez returned to the U.S., and continued to live openly in Lebanon, Tennessee, where his family joined him in 2007. Although his brother and father continued to live in Santa Maria Natividad, neither Martinez nor his family was ever informed of the warrant against him.
     While there was no obstacle to learning where Martinez was living – it was common knowledge in the village – the Mexican government waited six years to request his extradition. Despite the delay, in January 2014, the U.S. certified Martinez extraditable, and prepared to turn him over to the Mexican authorities.
     Martinez challenged his extradition as prohibited by a provision of a 1978 treaty between the nations that bars extradition due to the “lapse of time” according to the laws of either country.
     On Friday, a divided Sixth Circuit held that while the U.S. statute of limitations for the crimes of which he is accused has not expired, he is nevertheless protected by the Speedy Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment, a divided panel found.
     “Under our legal system, protection against untimely prosecution is incomplete without the Speedy Trial Clause, which operates in concert with statutes of limitation and the Due Process Clause to protect against oppressive prosecutorial delay,” U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay said, writing for the panel’s 2-1 majority.
     “If the roles of the two countries here were reversed, there is no question that Petitioner would be able to invoke his constitutional speedy trial right in a U.S. prosecution based on the government’s failure to timely seek his extradition from Mexico, and indeed he would stand a good chance of succeeding in his challenge and thereby barring his prosecution,” Clay said. “Article 7 incorporates precisely that result: if Petitioner’s criminal prosecution would be barred due to the lapse of time in the United States, his extradition must be refused.” (Emphasis in original.)
     U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote a vigorous dissent, claiming, “Today’s decision brings more than two centuries of settled understanding to an end. By shoehorning speedy-trial protections into the phrase ‘barred by lapse of time,’ the majority has given this mine-run extradition treaty a meaning it does not have and in the process made nearly irrelevant the one meaning everyone thought it did have.”
     But Clay called the dissent’s concerns “hyperbolic” and “overblown.”
     “The issue can hardly be considered ‘settled’ with only one appellate decision directly on point, a decision that we believe was wrongly decided,” Clay said in a pointed response to Sutton’s dissent.
     The court remanded the case back to the district court, directing it to determine whether Mexico diligently sought Martinez during the period it was living in the United States.

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