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What is Extradition Law?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Extradition law is the body of law which surrounds situations in which fugitives are sent from one location to another by request. This term is often used in the sense of international extradition, as for example if someone was sent from the United States to Norway to face justice. However, extradition can also be an internal matter as a fugitive is transferred from one state or province to another.

Historically, there were no requirements for international extradition. Someone could evade justice by moving to a different country and the original nation would have no legal recourse, except to hope that the fugitive crossed its borders again. In the 1800s, however, nations began making private arrangements with each other which gradually turned into extradition treaties, and today extradition law covers many nations which will transfer fugitives between each other when they are asked to do so.

However, extradition law is very strict about the circumstances in which fugitives can be transferred. Every extradition request is evaluated as a standalone to determine whether or not the request should be granted, and a number of factors are weighed. Under extradition law, countries cannot be compelled to extradite prisoners, although they must consider extradition requests when they are submitted.

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One of the most critical issues is the one of dual criminality. If Country A requests that Country B extradite a fugitive to face charges for activities which Country B does not consider crimes, the request will be turned down. For the dual criminality standard to be met, both countries must agree that a given activity is indeed a crime. Many nations also turn down extradition requests if there is a chance of punishment which they deem inhumane. For example, nations which have abolished the death penalty will not extradite fugitives accused of capital crimes to nations which use the death penalty. Likewise, nations which do not practice corporal punishment may refuse to extradite a fugitive who could face caning.

Another major concern in international extradition law is political crimes. Various citizens experience different levels of political freedoms, and nations will not extradite prisoners to countries with repressive political regimes if those prisoners committed crimes which might be considered political in nature. Often such requests fail to meet the dual criminality standard, but there may be situations in which there are worries that a prisoner could face political persecution if extradited, or in which there are concerns about the validity of the legal system. If the subject of such a request can demonstrate that a fair trial is unlikely or that there are other issues with the legal system, the request may be turned down.

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