I am a citizen of the United States of America. As such, it is illegal for me to--to take an extreme example--murder. However, say I am going on vacation to a little nation where it is not illegal to murder--if you decapitate someone for stealing your oranges, the only thing that you'll have to worry about is the cleanliness of your machete.

So I am in this country when another adult cuts me in line for the roller coaster. Naturally taking this personally and as an insult, I take out my machete and swing at my adversary; after realizing that I missed the cutter altogether, I pull out my revolver and shoot my opponent, and he dies.

I have just murdered a man; however, because murder is not illegal in this country, I have done nothing (from the law's perspective) wrong.

Upon returning to the US, of which I am a citizen, can I be tried for murder even though I did not do it in the US's jurisdiction?

Does this apply to all actions that are unlawful in one jurisdiction but not another?

Thanks a lot in advance for any responses. All are greatly appreciated!

1 Answer 1


What you're asking about is extraterritorial jurisdiction, and it will depend on the country and crime(s) involved.

As an example, under Australian law, it is a crime to engage in sexual activities with minors barring specific exemptions, which are not relevant to this example.

There are countries where the age of majority is less than that in Australia. If you were to travel to this country, you are not necessarily committing a crime there.

However, Australia's sex tourism laws make it a crime to do this anywhere in the world. This is enacted (I believe) under the foreign affairs power of the Commonwealth Government.

It will largely depend on the legal system of your country, as to whether laws have extraterritorial effect. In general, however, laws do not have extraterritorial effect unless explicitly stated.

  • 4
    Australia also prohibits paying bribes anywhere in the world
    – Dale M
    Oct 15, 2015 at 4:17
  • 4
    As does the US, for both those things. And to take a violent turn, piracy on the high seas can be punished by any nation: if the pirates, their victims, and all ships involved are French but a South African frigate intercepts them, the South Africans can try them.
    – cpast
    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:33
  • @cpast , why would any specific nation try them at all and not the victims themselves or their family members, or the ship owner, etc.?
    – Daniel
    Nov 30, 2015 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Dopapp Private citizens often cannot prosecute criminal offences. That would depend on the jurisdiction, but in general only public prosecutors can do this. Private citizens may still be able to bring a civil claim, but again this depends on the jurisdiction.
    – jimsug
    Nov 30, 2015 at 20:36
  • 2
    @Dopapp Only warships, military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft on government service (and clearly marked as such) are entitled to enforce the law of the sea. A private vessel without governmental authorization which goes after a pirate ship is itself committing an act of piracy; citizen's arrest isn't a thing at sea.
    – cpast
    Dec 1, 2015 at 0:12

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