The broad interpretation of "lapse of time" provides protections beyond the bounds of the U.S.-Mex. Treaty.

JurisdictionUnited States
AuthorNovelli, Chelsea S.
Date01 January 2016

The United States Extradition Treaty with Mexico is in place, as an agreement between the two sovereign nations, for the purpose of honoring each nation's laws. (1) Article 7 of the U.S.-Mexico Extradition Treaty (Extradition Treaty) provides "[e]xtradition shall not be granted when the prosecution or the enforcement of the penalty for the offense for which extradition has been sought has become barred by lapse of time according to the laws of the requesting or requested Party." (2) In Martinez v. United States, (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was pressed with the question of whether there are grounds to bar an extradition under the language of Article 7, "lapse of time," for violating the Sixth Amendment protections of a speedy trial. (4) The Sixth Circuit considered whether the interpretation of "lapse of time" encompassed the Sixth Amendment's Speedy Trial Clause, which would prohibit the extradition of Avelino Cruz Martinez (Martinez). (5)

Martinez, a Mexican citizen, lived in a small community of approximately two hundred people in Santa Maria Natividad, Ixpantepec Nieves, Silacayoapan, in Oaxaca, Mexico. (6) On December 31, 2005, Martinez and his cousin visited the town's New Year's Eve celebration, where Martinez approached Samuel Francisco Solano Cruz (Cruz), shook his hand, and then drew his weapon. (7) An altercation ensued: two men were shot and killed. (8) On January 12, 2006, Martinez made an agreement with the family members of one of the victims, Cruz, to pay MXN50,000 and admit to being the person who committed the murders. (9) Some time between December 31, 2005, and April of 2006, Martinez moved to Lebanon, Tennessee, United States. (10) Mexican officials issued an arrest warrant for Martinez on February 23, 2006. (11)

On September 11, 2009, U.S. officials contacted the U.S. consular official in Mexico, inquiring about the arrest warrant for Martinez. (12) Despite the warrant's status of pending and executable, no arrest or follow-up was completed at that time. (13) Subsequent to this inquiry, Martinez obtained his U.S. citizenship in October of 2010. (14) It was not until May 21, 2012, that Mexico submitted a formal "diplomatic note" invoking the Extradition Treaty to have Martinez arrested and extradited. (15) On behalf of the Mexican government, on June 11, 2013, the United States filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, seeking to arrest Martinez for purposes of extradition. (16)

Martinez was arrested on August 20, 2013. (17) On January 17, 2014, the district court held Martinez should be extradited under the treaty provisions. (18) The magistrate overseeing the ex tradition proceeding reasoned that the right to a speedy trial is not applicable in extradition hearings. (19) In response to the court's decision, Martinez filed a writ of habeas corpus denouncing his extradition. (20)

Article VI of the Constitution of the United States provides that treaties should be treated as supreme law of the land. (21) Due to this remarkable treatment, treaties are as binding as legislation and the interpretation of them is critical. (22) To interpret a treaty, a court must liberally construe the text to determine the meaning intended between the two countries. (23) Historically, the phrase "lapse of time" has been interpreted as the equivalent of "statute of limitations." (24) Despite the historical use of "lapse of time," courts are in conflict as to whether the "lapse of time" has the ability to incorporate the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution's Speedy Trial Clause outside of context of criminal prosecutions, under the current laws of the land. (25)

The Sixth Amendment provides a right to a speedy trial and serves the purpose of protecting citizens from unfair prejudice in a criminal proceeding. (26) In determining whether a defendant has been denied rights, courts apply the four balancing factors established in Barker v. Wingo: (27) length of delay, reason for delay, defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant. (28) Whether a defendant is prejudiced in his defense requires an analysis relative to the facts of each case. (29) prejudice is assessed in light of three factors: to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration, to minimize anxiety and concern of the accused, and to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired. (30)

Jurisdictions are split: some jurisdictions interpret treaty language more broadly to include constitutional rights and others limit constitutional protections. (31) Many jurisdictions have held that even though a treaty provides a right to the remedies of the country that an extraditee is facing charges in, they do not maintain the right of a speedy trial. (32) Supporting this stance, in Martin v. Warden, (33) the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explicitly stated that constitutional rights, such as a speedy trial, are reserved for criminal prosecutions and do not extend to extradition hearings. (34) Martin disapproved of anearlier decision, In re Extradition of Mylonas, (35) which extended speedy trial protections under the language "lapse of time or other lawful causes." (36) Furthermore, in Yapp v. Reno, (37) the court concluded that the phrase, "lapse of time," under the 1931 extradition treaty with the Bahamas, is limited to a statute of limitations analysis. (38) In Doggett v. United States, (39) a case involving a criminal defendant indicted in the United States, the Supreme Court of the United States applied Barker's balancing factors and held that the delayed time of eight-and-a-half-years between the criminal indictment and arrest violated the defendant's right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment. (40)

In Martinez v. United States, (41) the Sixth Circuit held that the language "lapse of time" encompasses the Sixth Amendment's Speedy Trial Clause. (42) In order to determine the treaty's intent, the Court first looked to the language used in the treaty. (43) Article 7 of the treaty states that extradition must be barred by "lapse of time according to the laws of the requesting or requested Party," and the Court explained the plain meaning of this language incorporates the laws of both countries in protecting citizens from untimely criminal prosecutions. (44) When the language is ambiguous, however, the Court stated that it must not only rely on a broad interpretation of the text, but also the context in which the language is used. (45) Due to the ambiguous nature of the "lapse of time" wording, the Court held the language is not exclusive to statute of limitations and should encompass the Sixth Amendment's right to a speedy trial. (46)

Martinez first raised a defense of statute of limitations, which the Court quickly denied. (47) The Court reasoned that because the language of the treaty may apply the statute of limitation laws of the United States and because the arrest warrant was issued within five years of the crime, Martinez would be eligible for extradition. (48) Despite denying the statute of limitations defense, the Court determined that "lapse of time" extended beyond statute of limitations, providing a right to a speedy trial. (49) Ultimately, Martinez's extradition was barred because the treaty interpretation and the unreasonable delay of seven years violated his right to a speedy trial. (50)

The Sixth Circuit incorrectly held that constitutional rights, such as the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, apply in extradition proceedings. (51) Interpreting a treaty first requires a plain language analysis; the Court, however, failed to analyze the phrase "lapse of time," and instead focused on "laws of the requesting or requested Party" language. (52) Due to the absence of the necessary analysis, "lapse of time," the Court's conclusion of the language encompassing the right to a speedy trial, was unfounded. (53) There is a significant difference between criminal and extradition proceedings; an extradition hearing is not a criminal or civil trial and the rules governing trials do not apply to extradition hearings. (54) Extradition hearings, however, are governed by the terms of the treaty. (55) Due to the precedent and the plain language interpretation of the phrase "lapse of time," the language is not ambiguous and does not need to be interpreted broadly. (56)

Martinez should be eligible for extradition because there are stark differences between the present case and the case precedent. (57) The Court incorrectly relied on Doggett because the criminal defendant was not facing extradition; rather, he was facing criminal charges within the United States, the country in which he was arrested. (58) The reasoning applied in Doggett is not applicable to Martinez because an extradition proceeding is not a criminal trial. (59) The Court also incorrectly relied on the reasoning of an overruled extradition hearing, In re Extradition of Mylonas, because the treaty language of "other unlawful causes," which barred Mylonas' extradition, is absent from the extradition treaty with Mexico. (60) The absence of the language, "or other unlawful causes," does not provide assistance in determining the meaning of "lapse of time"; therefore, the reasoning in In re Extradition of Mylonas does not apply. (61)

Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit, among others, have held that constitutional protections do not apply to extradition proceedings. (62) The analyses of all three cases are founded on the same principle: the language of the treaty should be and is the basis for rights conferred to extraditees. (63) There was nothing in either the history or the application of the language of the treaty that would suggest "lapse of time" was intended to encompass the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy-trial. (64) Therefore, if the Court had correctly applied history, case precedent, and analyzed the proper language of the...

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