Mexican/U.S. Extradition Laws… A Moral Mess?

By: Lisa Coleman

Twice in the last three weeks, a drunk driver killed innocent people on Arizona roads. The first, a 25-year old police officer, the second a 16-year old high school student. Both of the drunk drivers were in this country illegally from Mexico. Both of these men had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. Both men had previously been sent back to Mexico for illegally being in the United States. Both men are being held without bond in an Arizona jail with charges of second degree murder. The press has had a field day, and rightly so. The issue of illegal immigration is a daily occurrence, especially for those of us living in border states.

These men will now fight to return to their homes in Mexico to face the law in their homeland. They were anxious enough to get here, but now can’t wait to get home. Hummm. Just so you know the way this lays out – the Extradition Treaty between the United States of America and the United Mexican States (Signed by President Jimmy Carter, 1978, Effective 1980) allows:
“Mexico to try fugitives for crimes committed in a foreign territory by or against a Mexican citizen.”

What that means, is if these guys go home, chances are they will never see a courtroom as we know it. According to, “Mexican Federal law is based on the Napoleonic Code.  There is no presumption of innocence, no jury trial, and traditional common law and statutory rules of evidence don’t apply.  All trials are conducted by affidavit or declaration and witnesses rarely, if ever, testify in open court.  Victims and their families have no practical ability to witness the trial or be heard at sentencing which is controlled by the Mexican Federal Penal Code.  Although the maximum sentence in Mexico is a term of sixty years for murder, a sentence can, and frequently is, reduced through the appellate process or the “Amparo” which is the rough equivalent to our habeas proceedings.

Although efforts are currently underway to address the wide-spread corruption which has historically plagued Mexican judicial and law enforcement communities, often warrants remain in their system, unserved, for years.  Prosecutions are commenced and then dismissed or sentences substantially reduced in the appellate courts.  No verifiable system exists to track actual sentences served or to create a criminal database.  Repeated demands for such information have been largely ignored by the Mexican government.  Less formal surveys of law enforcement regarding the results of such prosecution show an abysmal record.  Approximately 85% of the cases appear never to have been prosecuted.  The remaining 15% appear to result in acquittals or vastly reduced sentences by comparison to what would have been the sentence in the United States, except in a few highly publicized incidents.”

The only upside being “the Extradition Treaty bars future extradition once a “trial” has been conducted in either country.” So if they are tried here, they will stay here…. As it should be. All of that said, it is critical that our new administration address the immigration issue. It simply has to be on, at very least, one of the burners. And, until it is addressed, and there is some sort of resolve that makes sense, the Mexicans will keep coming. For those who endure the red tape to become legal, I applaud you and welcome you with open arms. For those who don’t… well, you’ll have to face the music if you break our laws. It’s time for a change on immigration too, and I certainly hope we get one soon.