El Chapo Guzman’s Extradition

By Jessica Baker


Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious drug lord, has finally been extradited back to the United States after a lifetime of international crime. The heroin, marijuana, and cocaine international drug dealer is notorious for his prison escapes, the first one dating back to 2001 after a 1993 arrest in Guatemala. His lifetime of being on the run, evading police, and escaping multiple prisons throughout the past 3 decades has come to an end when El Chapo was handed over to United States officials after discussions with the Mexican government to solidify the extradition.[1] The drug lord is wanted in the United States for federal narcotics trafficking as well as other charges, and could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.[2]  He has pleaded not guilty to all 17 charges.[3]

Extradition Treaties

The process of extradition is the formal process when a fugitive is found in one country and is surrendered to another country for prosecution. While the process may seem relatively straight forward, there are a number of issues that make it relatively complex.

Normally, extradition may be sought only for an extraditable offense (that is, an offense included in an extradition treaty between the requesting state and surrendering state). The determination of whether an offense is extraditable can be made in two possible ways. The most stringent method requires that the offense charged be identical to an offense listed in the extradition treaty. Alternatively, a nation can require that the acts contributing to the charge could sustain some other charge listed in the treaty under the laws of the surrendering nation, obviating the need for an identical treaty offense.[4]

One main issue that can occur for extradition treaties with the United States as a party is that the United States still permit the death penalty, which has been outlawed in a number of other countries. This disagreement in permissive penalties may often lead to a country denying an extradition request to the United States. Another potential issue for extradition of criminals to the United States, is often times extradition treaties are signed with the federal government, not the individual sovereign states. “The political structure of countries, such as the federal structure of the United States, can bring about an additional difficulty in extradition proceedings, inasmuch as the governments of foreign nations have official relations only with the federal governments, not with the governments of a country's constituent states. It is not always clear whether an extradition agreement with the federal government is also binding to the states when a matter of state jurisdiction is involved.”[5]

Especially for extradition treaties with the United States, there needs to be signed agreements with particular countries, unlike other areas around the world, such as the European Union. The United States – Mexico Treaty is a bilateral agreement that recognizes the countries close relationship and the desire to work together to bring about justice in the world.[6] This treaty is one of the more straightforward agreements that the United States has, which has certainly been useful during the El Chapo saga.

El Chapo’s Future

Extradition treaties have a long history between countries, especially the United States and Mexico. While this may be the most notorious extradition in recent history, extraditions do occur relatively regularly. Ultimately, this certainly will not be the end of the story for El Chapo. Some have suggested that this could have been Mexico’s parting gift the Obama presidency, as the extradition was approved just one day before Donald Trump’s inauguration.[7] Suggesting the extraditions certainly play a large role into international relations, as United States – Mexico relations were more favorable under the Obama presidency than what is expected under a Trump administration. However, other have said that this was just a matter of timing, as El Chapo’s attorneys have finally exhausted their appeals. Only time will tell how this criminal trial will turn out and how it will affect international extradition treaties given the high-profile nature of this case.

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[1] Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman extradited to the U.S., Joshua Partlo, The Washington Post, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/mexican-drug-lord-joaquin-el-chapo-guzman-extradited-to-us/2017/01/19/7e08ee38-de9a-11e6-918c-99ede3c8cafa_story.html?utm_term=.bbaaac59913e.

[2] Drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo” Guzman extradited to US, Al Jazeera, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/drug-lord-joaquin-el-chapo-guzman-extradited-170120031812693.html.

[3] Notorious drug lord ‘El Chapo’ extradited from Mexico pleads not guilty in NYC court, RT America, available at https://www.rt.com/usa/374489-elchapo-us-court-guilty/.

[4] Understanding American Extradition Laws, HG.ORG https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=30994.

[5] Wilson, Steven Harmon, ed. (2012). The U.S. Justice System: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO. p. 527. ISBN 978-1-59884-304-0. LCCN 2011041731. OCLC 773670169

[6] Mexico – United States Treaty, Nov. 13, 1997, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/106681.pdf.

[7] Notorious drug lord ‘El Chapo’ extradited from Mexico pleads not guilty in NYC court, RT America, available at https://www.rt.com/usa/374489-elchapo-us-court-guilty/.