According to Wikipedia France is the most visited country in the world. At the same time, the USA is still practicing the death penalty. For example, 28 people were executed in 2015. For each execution a lot of evidence can be potentially gathered (official documents, video footage, declarations of individuals, etc).

So could the people who have taken part in an execution be considered guilty of "collective murder"? Is it possible that they could be arrested as soon as they arrive in France?

  • 3
    Are you asking whether France arrests and prosecutes visiting Americans who have performed executions of condemned criminals in America?
    – Patrick87
    Aug 29, 2016 at 14:19
  • Yes, they are morally biased, a potential threat to French people, I don't see why they can't recidivate in another country Aug 29, 2016 at 14:26
  • The question as asked is rather biased and hard to read, however I think there is a good question hiding there. I tried to edit it to improve.
    – sleske
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:01
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    @FrenchStudent they can't recidivate in another country because they are not government officers in other countries. The act which you suspect of being criminal is participating in a judicial homicide; in fact, it would be double impossible for them to do that in France because in addition to having no legal authority in France, France does not have the death penalty.
    – phoog
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:42
  • @phoog : But what if the act he suspects of being criminal is simply homicide? Jan 22, 2017 at 1:31

5 Answers 5


In short, it is doubtful that France would arrest an executioner vacationing abroad. The concept of functional immunity relies on mutual respect of sovereigns and applies to government officials acting in their official capacities. From Wikipedia:

Functional immunity arises from customary international law and treaty law and confers immunities on those performing acts of state (usually a foreign official). Any person who in performing an act of state commits a criminal offence is immune from prosecution. This is so even after the person ceases to perform acts of state. Thus it is a type of immunity limited in the acts to which it attaches (acts of state) but will only end if the state itself ceases to exist. This immunity, though applied to the acts of individuals, is an attribute of a state, and is based on the mutual respect of states for sovereign equality and state dignity. States thus have a significant interest in upholding the principle in international affairs: if a state's officials are to be tried at all for anything, it will be at home.

State offices usually recognised as automatically attracting this immunity are the head of state or head of government, senior cabinet members, ambassadors and the foreign and defence ministers. Many countries have embodied these immunities in domestic law. States regularly assert that every official acting in their official capacity is immune from prosecution by foreign authorities (for non-international crimes) under the doctrine of ratione materiae. Such officers are immune from prosecution for everything they do during their time in office. For example, an English court held that a warrant could not be issued for the arrest of Robert Mugabe on charges of international crimes on the basis that he was a presently serving Head of State at the time the proceedings were brought. Other examples are the attempts to prosecute Fidel Castro in Spain and Jiang Zemin in the USA.

You might argue that this doesn't apply to low-level officials like those administering capital punishment but I don't know if that is convincing. Clearly, the US believes they are acting in their official capacities or the US would arrest them.

To arrest an executioner from the US for the crime of carrying out his or her official duty would be to deny the sovereignty of the United States and might be dealt with harshly.

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    @FrenchStudent Mutual respect between sovereign states does not preclude disagreements, even strong disagreements. Political pressure can be applied, and it has been applied, and it can continue to be applied. However, mutual respect requires a recognition that the people which constitute a state must be allowed wide latitude in establishing domestic policy. Now if you are calling for nations to deny and challenge the sovereignty of the US, that is possible - though it would be inadvisable for the whole world, let alone FR+DE+IT, to attempt serious military provocation against the US.
    – Patrick87
    Aug 29, 2016 at 15:36
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    Also, AFAIK France follows the rest of the world in saying murder is not a crime of universal jurisdiction. If you murder someone on the street in the US and flee to France, French courts have no grounds to try you if you're not a French citizen (because France generally doesn't get to tell any Americans what to do in America unless it affects France somehow). France can extradite pursuant to a request from the US, or deport people from France, but that's all they can do.
    – cpast
    Aug 30, 2016 at 1:39
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    This is an interesting take on the question, which raises the much more likely prospect of a country such as France denying entry to the governor of, say, Texas, who is arguably more culpable in the death of an executed prisoner, having signed the death warrant. If a country decided to put political pressure on the US to abolish the death penalty, pursuing governors, the president, and perhaps judges would be much more likely to have an impact than going after executioners (who are far less likely to travel abroad, anyway).
    – phoog
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:47

I said this in a comment, but I'll put it in an answer. When France forcibly confines an American, the United States is entitled to ask France, "what the hell do you think you're doing, trying to confine our citizen in your country?" There are really just six basic answers that the United States will accept, and nothing in this scenario is specific to France or the US (it applies any time a foreign national is arrested by any country), and the six responses are the six basic principles of jurisdiction:

  1. Active nationality: "He's our citizen too! What the hell do you think you're doing, questioning how we treat our own citizens?" The US doesn't generally get to question how France treats French citizens, even if they're also American citizens. And France gets to require its citizens to obey French law anywhere in the world.

  2. Subjective territoriality: "He broke our laws on our soil. We don't care that he's your citizen, he has to obey our laws while he's here." This and nationality are by far the most well-accepted answers.

  3. Protective: "He threatened our state. We have the right to protect ourselves." This applies to things like attacking French government personnel or forging a French passport or similar: France isn't protecting its citizens, it's protecting France itself.

  4. Objective territoriality: "He may have committed this crime outside France, but its effects happened inside France. We can punish him for causing those effects." For instance, if you're in the US but hack a computer in France, France has an argument that they get to punish you for that.

  5. Passive nationality: "He may be American and have done this outside France, but he hurt our citizens. We have the right to protect our citizens." Again, a plausible argument. This is not necessarily a strong argument, but it can be made.

  6. Universality: "This thing is a crime against all of humanity. It's something that needs to be stamped out by all countries working together, without worrying too much about whether or not the defendant actually affected the country prosecuting him in any way." This is very rare.

Murder is not a crime of universal jurisdiction. It's limited to more severe crimes, as well as crimes of a fundamentally international nature. So piracy is on the list, as is plane hijacking, as is genocide. Killing an ambassador is on the list: you're a threat to international order. But normal murder? Not even close. It's not a crime with international implications, and it's not a crime which is so fundamentally horrific that it needs to be ended by any means necessary. The death penalty has never been considered to be that fundamentally horrific, and likely never will be, particularly when (as in the US) it is limited to people who have committed something that is an extremely serious crime in any country (i.e. murder).

The only way France could make a remotely plausible argument that it gets to punish American executioners is if they're dual citizens or if they executed a French citizen. Then France can't arrest the executioner because US is a sovereign state and gets to impose its own penal laws. But normally? France couldn't arrest them even if it wasn't for the fact that they're executing US government policy, because Americans in America don't generally have to obey French laws.

  • 1
    Excuse me, but France is a sovereign state and does whatever it pleases in France. So there would be nothing that the USA could actually do to stop it. There are plenty of good reasons why no arrest will happen, but the USA complaining is not one of them.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 30, 2016 at 8:00
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    @gnasher Wrong. The US, like all sovereign states, is entitled to provide diplomatic protection to its citizens. Countries are perfectly allowed to complain about the treatment of their citizens, to take diplomatic action against countries that mistreat them, and in extreme cases (not including this one) to use military action. Should France arrest an American for an act that falls outside France's prescriptive jurisdiction, there are serious diplomatic consequences.
    – cpast
    Aug 30, 2016 at 12:40
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    What you say is at the very, very end of the long list of reasons not to make an arrest. You are basically saying "France isn't going to break their own laws because the USA is going to complain". Totally wrong. France isn't going to break their own laws because they follow their own laws. If they wanted to break these laws, which would be quite abnormal, USA complaining wouldn't stop them.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:32
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    @gnasher You're missing the bigger issue of why French law says that. France is not, in practice, free to pass laws applying French laws to almost any situation not involving France. An answer that assumes it's the result of France freely deciding this is incomplete, because there would be setious diplomatic consequences otherwise. If France tries to exercise prescriptive jurisdiction without having one of the standard arguments, there are repercussions.
    – cpast
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:55
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    @gnasher729 France, a sovereign state, doesn't have an intrinsic obligation to listen to the US, but it and the US (and most of the rest of the world) have already made mutual agreements (treaties) about consular protection and extradition and so on. France could make a political decision that its opposition to US death penalty is stronger than its commitment to diplomatic relations with the US, but that seems, as cpast has noted, highly unlikely at this point.
    – phoog
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:58

There is one immediate reason why France wouldn't arrest a US executioner; that executioner hasn't committed any crime in France. France doesn't give speeding tickets to people who were speeding in the USA, they don't arrest thieves who steal in the USA, they don't even try murderers who murdered in the USA.

In addition, it is doubtful that an executioner is committing a crime according to French law. In France, you cannot be legally given a death sentence. Therefore the situation cannot arise that in France an executioner kills someone who has been legally condemned to death in France. That doesn't mean executing someone who was legally convicted to a death sentence would be illegal, it just doesn't happen. (It would be different if the death sentence itself had been illegal).

In somewhat related cases, when members of US secret services have abducted people from Europe, that has led to prosecution and convictions, for example in Italy.


Before you get to international law issues, it is uncommon for a state to have a law against murder that applies outside of the state's territory.

For example, in 2003 it was alleged that a US citizen (Tina Watson) was murdered by another US citizen in Australia. In order to try the alleged offender in the United States (specifically in Alabama), the prosecutor had to prove that there was a conspiracy and that part of the conspiracy was carried out in the US. (They were not able to so prove.)

Since 2002, Australia has had a law that says that if you murder an Australian citizen anywhere in the world then you can be tried in Australia: Criminal Code (Cth), s 115.1. This law was enacted in response to a terrorist attack in Indonesia in which many Australians well killed. This law might apply if the US executed an Australian citizen. There is a defence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code for lawful authority (s 10.5) but the word "law" is defined in the Code's Dictionary to refer to Commonwealth law, not foreign law.

The Australian authorities would then look at the international law and political issues discussed in the other answers; political discretion in a s 115.1 prosecution is maintained by the requirement for that the Attorney-General's consent is required for such a prosecution: s 115.6.

France's penal code applies worldwide to any offence where a French national is a victim: Penal Code, art 113-7. The French Code has a general defence of lawful authority: art 122-4, but I don't know French (or French law) well enough to say how a French court could would look at a US law permitting capital punishment.


Cavelese cable incident in Italy in 1998 can be a good example, American Marines were having fun while flying far below the prescribed height and it turned into an ugly accident. Italy didn't received the jurisdiction to try those marines despite of the fact that the incident took place in Italy. Getting hold of something in France which happened in America and considered legal by America is really far fetched.

  • 2
    The Cavalese cable car incident is slightly different because a specific treaty (the NATO status of forces agreement 1951) applied. Article VII paragraph 3(a)(ii) relates to acts committed by members of a state's military in the course of their official duties, and gives that state the right to apply criminal sanctions or discipline to the member, to the exclusion of the state in whose territory the act was committed. Jan 22, 2017 at 10:50
  • Alright, just for the sake of discussion, could Italy have challenged Article VII 3(a)'s jurisdiction under International law over public safety of its citizens. Flying below prescribed limit or joyrides were too often before this incident as per the media reports.
    – lawsome
    Jan 22, 2017 at 16:33
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    The official duties of a member of the military are often hazardous to public safety -- for example, if Italy was invaded then the Americans would be firing rockets etc -- so it would not be a surprise to the people who signed up to Article VII paragraph 3(a) that a member of a foreign military's criminal offending could include the deaths of locals. Article VII paragraph 3(b) does provide that, where the alleged offending falls outside the member's official duties and any local persons or property are affected, then local law gets precedence. That's the intended balance and policy. Jan 23, 2017 at 10:54

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