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Attorneys are helping criminal suspect clients fight extradition in a number of high-profile cases across the country, pushing back against a nearly 200-year-old process that some say is flawed. Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, imprisoned in Florida, is battling extradition to France, while a Unitarian minister in West Virginia accused of assisting in a suicide in Ireland is fighting a request from that country. The cases come against the backdrop of a rare successful court challenge to extradition in Chicago last month for a man accused of murder in Poland, as well as the start of a civil lawsuit in West Virginia over events leading up to an extradition and its repercussions. The cases are throwing into sharper focus what some lawyers say is a faulty system built on a federal statute that deprives defendants of basic due process rights, such as the ability to object to evidence and appeal a decision. They also charge that the system is too easily swayed by political influences. U.S. officials defend the system, noting that it was never meant to provide the equivalent of a criminal trial and that extraditions are essential to honoring treaty obligations with other nations. From 1990 to 2002, the latest statistics available, pending extradition requests for transfer of suspects from or to the United States more than doubled, to 3,636. Of that total, about 1,100 are cases of fugitives wanted by foreign governments and about 2,500 are wanted by the United States, according to a 2002 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. Some attorneys say the number is likely to keep climbing as more Americans travel for work and recreation. The federal criminal statute governing the extradition process dates back to 1825 and has changed little since then. U.S. treaties with 120 countries determine whether someone will be shipped out, but the statute spells out how U.S. courts handle petitions made by U.S. prosecutors on behalf of foreign countries. For a foreign extradition request to pass muster in U.S. court, evidence must show that the individual is the person sought, that the crime is listed among extraditable offenses in the treaty and that the United States recognizes the crime. Foreigners and Americans are treated the same in U.S. court under the statute. The statute does not guarantee extradition defendants the right to a detention hearing to determine whether bail can be offered � a standard not in keeping with U.S. criminal proceedings, said Douglas McNabb, a Washington attorney at McNabb Associates who specializes in extradition and federal criminal issues. A bail petition can be made, but it may be rejected. Another problem with the process is that defendants can’t appeal a decision, but must file a writ of habeas corpus and then appeal if needed, he said. “The statute is terribly flawed and the whole procedure is terribly flawed,” said Jenner & Block attorney Chris Gair, who in July persuaded a judge to reject the extradition of a Chicago-area man accused of hiring a hitman in Poland for the 1998 murder of that country’s top law enforcement official. U.S. v. Mazur, No. 06-295 (N.D. Ill.). Gair challenged the constitutionality of the federal statute, saying that outdated and vague rules of the process barred his client, Edward Mazur, from introducing “contradictory evidence” and limited him to “explanatory evidence.” He also argued that having a judge’s decision be subject to a later decision by the U.S. Department of State was a violation of the U.S Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine. While U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys rejected Gair’s constitutional challenge to the statute, he ruled that the Polish government’s evidence was “patently unreliable,” and that he was not going to act as a “rubber stamp.” In 12 years on the bench, Keys said he had never rejected a request for extradition. Poland can’t appeal the decision, but it can seek extradition again and has said it will. DePaul University College of Law Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who has handled about 100 extraditions, estimates foreign governments make about 300 requests per year for extradition of people in the United States. Only about 10% to 15% are rejected in court, he estimates. Bassiouni considers some arguments against the system ill-founded, saying that courts have always “liberally” interpreted defendants’ use of “explanatory” evidence and calling the separation of powers issue “absurd.” “In the past, most of the extradition cases were for common criminals,” said Bassiouni. “Nowadays, there might be more of a political dimension to these cases.” ‘Multiple’ defense chances Barbara Silberstein, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, noted that “the extradition statutes enable the United States to honor its obligations under various bilateral extradition treaties, which provide procedural mechanisms for placing a person before the judicial authorities of another country.” “Extradition is not a criminal proceeding, and the extradition statutes are not criminal statutes,” she noted in an e-mail. “This is not only true in the United States. Rather, the process employed under the U.S. statutes is very similar to that employed by most of our treaty partners around the world.” Silberstein added that “[i]ndividuals sought for extradition in the United States have multiple opportunities during the extradition process, both before federal judges and the secretary of state, to assert defenses to extradition, challenge their detention, or raise other concerns. The extradition process has been repeatedly upheld as consistent with the Constitution.” She referred any further comment to the Justice Department, which did not return calls seeking comment. But some attorneys see flaws in the treaties touted by the State Department. A clause in many treaties that allows an exception for political offenses to extradition is too vague, said Linda Friedman Ramirez, a criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla. Issues such as political exceptions are “going to become more and more important,” said Friedman Ramirez, predicting that for extradition in general, “the number of cases is going to increase.” Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision about a former Peruvian military official accused of murdering civilians, defined what it considered exceptions, but split with the 9th Circuit on some aspects. Ordinola v. Hackman, No. 06-6126. Courts ultimately defer to the executive branch on extraditions, the decision noted. “Pure” political offenses that occur in other countries, such as espionage or treason, may be excepted, but “relative” political offenses related to a political uprising or disturbance in the requesting country are not as clear cut. The 4th Circuit said that because victims of the alleged crime in the Peruvian case were civilians the exception didn’t apply, even though the 9th Circuit had found otherwise in a different case. See Quinn v. Robinson, 783 F.2d 776, 799 (9th Cir. 1986). Ireland is currently seeking the extradition of George David Exoo, a former Unitarian minister who lives in Beckley, W.Va. He allegedly traveled to Dublin in 2002 to help a woman with severe depression commit suicide. In the matter of the extradition of George David Exoo, No. 07-00059 (S.D. W.Va.). The story has made news in Ireland because Exoo admitted to assisting the suicide and could be the first person extradited from the United States for such a crime. Edward Weis, the attorney in the Federal Public Defenders Office for the Southern District of West Virginia who is representing Exoo, argues in a court filing that his client should not be extradited because assisting a suicide is not a crime under U.S. or West Virginia law. The federal prosecutor, Philip Wright, counters in court documents that it is a crime in a “preponderance” of U.S. states and therefore is ground for extradition. Wright declined to comment on the case. Extraditions are rarely rejected by U.S. courts, partly because federal prosecutors need only to show that there is probable cause to believe the person committed the crime, rather than to show it beyond a reasonable doubt, as for a criminal conviction. “Extradition hearings on crimes that are commonly recognized are hard to beat,” said Frank Rubino, a solo pratitioner in Miami who is fighting the extradition of Noriega to France after the notorious military leader finishes serving a U.S. prison sentence next month. U.S.A. v. Noriega, No. 88-79 (S.D. Fla.). The United States opened an extradition proceeding against Noriega in July on behalf of France, which has charged him with money laundering in the late 1980s related to drug trafficking. The United States convicted him on drug trafficking charges in 1992. A federal judge in August rejected a habeas corpus motion by Noriega in which he sought to block the extradition proceedings and that ruling allowed a magistrate judge to sign the extradition order the following week after a hearing. Rubino said his client will now file another habeas corpus motion in response to that ruling that can be appealed to the 11th Circuit if it’s rejected. “We’re hoping somewhere along the line law will triumph over politics,” Rubino said. While the process could be “fairer,” lawyers must work within the law’s constraints, he said. A federal prosecutor in the case, Michael Patrick Sullivan, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Political influences U.S. and international politics play a role in all extradition cases, often influencing the outcome, attorneys say. They note that the United States has to be willing to hand over suspects, especially when dealing with allies, to get cooperation in bringing suspects to the United States Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider, a West Virginia woman who was extradited to South Korea in 2002 and acquitted of murder there, believes that politics played a role in her case. Snider was studying abroad with an American group of students when her classmate was murdered. Snider’s case has been taken on by the Northwestern University Bluhm Legal Clinic and she’s being represented by one of its lawyers, Chuhak & Tecson attorney Sam Tenenbaum in Chicago. While Snider isn’t suing over the extradition process, she alleges in a civil lawsuit that she filed against the FBI that political pressure from a U.S. senator’s involvement in the case � including discussion of the crime in a meeting with the president of South Korea � contributed to her “coerced false confession” in the killing. Snider confessed after being pressed by FBI agents to recall repressed memories during three days of interrogation at a hotel without a lawyer present, the lawsuit alleges. The agents theorized that Snider killed the classmate after her sexual advances were rejected, even though neither woman was homosexual. They also rejected accounts that men’s voices were heard outside the victim’s hotel room at the time of the murder and tests that showed semen in the body. The extradition led to four years of imprisonment and trials before Snider’s acquittal in South Korea, which was upheld by two appellate courts, including the Korean Supreme Court last year. Snider v. Divittis, No. 07-0335 (S.D. W.Va.).

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