United States v. Alvarez-Machain

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Circuit Court of Vermilion County

DOCKET NO.: 91-712
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 504 US 655 (1992)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1992

Kenneth W. Starr – on behalf of the Petitioner
Paul L. Hoffman – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Alvarez-Machain

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

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

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 91-712, United States versus Alvarez-Machain.

In this case, the respondent was forcibly abducted from his home in Mexico and flown by private plane to Texas where he was arrested by United States authorities for his participation in the torture and murder of Enrique Comerena, an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The District Court, before which Alvarez was to be tried, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over him because his abduction violated the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico.

The District Court accordingly ordered that Alvarez be repatriated to Mexico.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed based on one of its prior decisions and on the District Court’s conclusion that the United States had participated indirectly in respondents abduction.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we hold that the respondent must stand trial on the torture and murder charges brought against him.’

The general rule applicable in these cases is known as the Ker Frisbie doctrine which was summarized for a unanimous court half a century ago by Justice Black in these words, “This Court has never departed from the rule that the power of a court to try a person for crime is not impaired by the fact that he had been brought within the court’s jurisdiction by reason of forceable abduction.”

These cases rest on the sound basis that due process of law is satisfied when one present in court is convicted of crime after having been thoroughly upraised of the charges against him and after a fair trial in accordance with constitutional procedural safeguards.

There is nothing in the Constitution that requires a court to permit a guilty person rightfully convicted to escape justice because he was brought to trial against his will.

Respondent relies on the case of Rauscher against the United States which was authored by Justice Miller who also wrote the Ker opinion and was decided on the same day as the Ker case in 1885.

In Rauscher, we held that a person brought before the court as a result of proceedings under an extradition treaty could only be tried for one of the offenses described in that treaty.

But the principle of Rauscher does not apply to the present case in our view because the activities of the United States in indirectly participating in the respondent’s abduction from Mexico did not violate the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico.

That treaty did not purport to be an exhaustive list of the means by which one of the countries might gain custody over a national of the other country for purposes of prosecution.

The history of its negotiation and the practice under it confirms this view.

Respondent contends that internation abductions are so clearly prohibited under international law that the treaty should be read to include such a prohibition.

But it would be contrary to our precedent and practice to imply such a term in the treaty from general principles unrelated to the law of extradition.

The Republic of Mexico has protested the abduction of respondent through diplomatic notes, but the decision of whether he should be returned to Mexico even though such return is not required by the treaty, is a matter for the Executive Branch to decide.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is, therefore, reversed.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun and Justice O’Connor have joined.