Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits here in Atlanta, Georgia, decided U.S. v. Valencia-Trujillo, a federal criminal case involving an extradition rule called the rule of specialty. The Court held that Mr. Valencia-Trujillo had not established that he had been extradited under Colombia’s treaty with the United States, rather than an extradition agreement between the countries, so he lacked standing to assert the rule of specialty. This decision makes little sense in the context of the rule.
The rule of specialty requires countries that request extradition of a person to prosecute that person only for the offenses for which the foreign country surrenders the person. In other words, if the United States asks Colombia to extradite someone for charges A, B, and C, once Columbia extradites that person, the United States can’t turn around and charge the person with X, Y, and Z. As the Court said in its opinion, “because the surrender of the defendant requires the cooperation of the surrendering state, preservation of the institution of extradition requires that the petitioning state live up to whatever promises it made in order to obtain extradition.” In other words, the rule of specialty ensures that other countries will trust the United States to adhere to the terms of extradition. Otherwise, they may not agree to send people back to the U.S. for trial.
The Court basically held that the United States need not honor promises that it makes in order to obtain extradition agreements. It came to that conclusion by relying on a prior case that viewed treaties as contracts between sovereign nations and the rule of specialty as a provision of the extradition contract. Because of that case, the Court said, “the rule of specialty is treaty-based.” The court then explained that while treaties become the law of this country, extradition agreements do not. The Court’s distinction between extradition pursuant to a treaty and extradition pursuant to an agreement flies in the face of the underlying purpose of the rule of specialty.