United States v. Alvarez-Machain Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Alvarez-Machain (D) abducted from Mexico for trial in the U.S. (P) by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, contended that his abduction was illegal because of an extradition treaty between the United States (P) and Mexico.

Facts of the case

Question

Does the presence of an extradition treaty between the United States and another country does not necessarily preclude obtaining a citizen of that nation through abduction?

Answer

(Rehnquist, C.J.) No. The presence of an extradition treaty between the United States and another country does not necessarily preclude obtaining a citizen of that nation through abduction. It has been established that abduction, in and of itself, does not invalidate prosecution against a foreign national. The only question to be answered is whether the abduction violates any extradition treaty that may be in effect between the U.S. (P) and the nation in which the abductee was to be found. The international law applies only to situations where no extradition treaty exists, so it is irrelevant here. Since the extradition treaty does not prohibit an abduction as it occurred in this case, then it is not illegal. Reversed.

Conclusion

The Court held that the fact of Alvarez-Machain’s forcible abduction from a nation with which the U.S. has an extradition treaty does not prohibit his trial in a United States court for violations of the criminal laws in the U.S. The Court construed the treaty and concluded that there were no express provisions concerning obligations to refrain from forcible abductions, or the consequences under the treaty if such abduction occurred. The Court concluded that the language of the treaty, in the context of its history, did not support the finding that the treaty prohibited abductions outside of its terms. Nor did the Court find that the treaty should be interpreted so as to include an implied term prohibiting prosecution, where a defendant’s presence was obtained by means other than those established by the treaty. The Court noted that the violation of any principle of international law did not constitute a violation of the treaty. The Court thus refused to imply in the treaty a term prohibiting international abductions.

  • Case Brief: 1992
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Alvarez-Machain
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 504 US 655 (1992)
Argued: Apr 1, 1992
Decided: Jun 15, 1992