United States v. Alvarez-Machain - Oral Argument - April 01, 1992

United States v. Alvarez-Machain

Media for United States v. Alvarez-Machain

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 15, 1992 in United States v. Alvarez-Machain

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 1992 in United States v. Alvarez-Machain

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 91-712, United States v. Humberto Alvarez-Machain.

General Starr.

Kenneth W. Starr:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

For over 100 years this Court has steadfastly adhered to what has become known as the Ker-Frisbie doctrine.

Under that doctrine, the jurisdiction of courts is not impaired by the fact that an individual was unlawfully brought before the court to stand trial.

That doctrine has served as the backdrop for the executive branch's negotiation of numerous extradition treaties, including our treaty with Mexico.

This case, involving the forcible abduction of an individual from Mexico to stand trial in this country in connection with the torture and death of special agent Enrique Camarena of the Drug Enforcement Administration brings this doctrine once again before the Court.

In this case, the lower courts concluded that the Ker-Frisbie doctrine does not apply where there is an extradition treaty in effect, the extradition treaty was arguably violated by the abduction, and where the foreign government protests the abduction.

Harry A. Blackmun:

General Starr, as a preliminary matter, has the State Department Legal Advisors' Office joined your brief?

Kenneth W. Starr:

The legal advisor is not on the brief, but the brief expresses the views of the United States, which includes the Department of State, and Justice Blackmun, there should be no significance to the fact that they are not shown on the brief.

Their legal advisor, Mr. Williamson has in fact opined that in his view it is entirely appropriate and proper for courts to exercise jurisdiction under circumstances such as these.

The Government speaks with one voice with respect to this case.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Nothing formal to that effect, however?

Kenneth W. Starr:

He did provide--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Just opined?

Kenneth W. Starr:

--A letter or an opinion, that is correct, but that is a customary way, Justice Blackmun, in which the legal advisor expresses his views.

In our view the--

May I--

Kenneth W. Starr:

--Yes.

John Paul Stevens:

--Before you get into your argument, why is this case a little different than some of the other Ker-Frisbie cases, has the doctrine ever been applied to a case involving the crime committed in another country by a national of that country?

Kenneth W. Starr:

By a national of that country, I believe the answer to that question is no.

John Paul Stevens:

So this is a unique... this is a case of first impression?

Kenneth W. Starr:

The facts are different, yes, but I think the doctrine itself, Justice Stevens, speaks quite broadly to the courts, that it is the role of the courts to try cases, and not to involve themselves with how the individual came into the court.

John Paul Stevens:

But in the Rauscher case, of course, that was critical how the individual--

Kenneth W. Starr:

Yes, because under that... that is exactly right, and I think that gets to the core of this case.

The distinction between Ker on the one hand and Rauscher on the other.

Justice Miller's opinion in the Rauscher case examined very carefully the background of the treaty, the Webster-Ashburton treaty--

John Paul Stevens:

--And they also emphasized the fact that he was a fugitive and an American citizen, whereas the facts here are much different.

Kenneth W. Starr:

--The facts here are different, but the point remains, Justice Stevens, that the doctrine itself has been the broad doctrine that one simply does not inquire into how... the court does not inquire into how the individual came there unless, and this is Rauscher's point, there is a violation of a treaty.

A treaty is law.