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I'm thinking about a few scenarios here. One scenario is a Pablo Escobar scenario, or a Don Eladio scenario if you're a BCS fan like myself: A drug kingpin operating outside the United States, allegedly orchestrating drug dealing in the United States.

Another scenario is the Hassan Nasrallah scenario, where a leader of a Lebanese group considered by some to be a terrorist organization, is allegedly responsible for murders in another country, Israel. There are probably many more examples with other countries, so let's not make this political. Let's take the Pablo Escobar example.

Can the US put the foreign drug kingpin on trial? Say that the US has concrete evidence that the drug kingpin is responsible for crimes in the US, but they haven't managed to arrest them yet. Would it be legal for them to put them on trial in the US without their appearance?

Would it be in the US's interests? What are some advantages and disadvantages of that?

The reason I was thinking about this: As far as I know, in civil lawsuits it's possible to put an individual on trial even if they have completely disappeared to a different country. This is legal as long as they have been served properly, even if they never actually received the notice about the lawsuit. I'm wondering whether the same is possible for the cases above.

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    This sounds like trial in absentia but I don't know enough about the US Constitution to offer an answer.
    – Rock Ape
    Mar 6 at 12:44
  • in absentia happens, especially when you are informed of a trial and just don't show up. Though most often that happens in Traffic Court.
    – Trish
    Mar 6 at 12:52
  • Your title says "a country" but your question body specifies the US. Are you interested in answers relating to other countries?
    – Studoku
    Mar 6 at 20:24
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The rules of criminal procedure are going to differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In US federal court, for example, a criminal trial in absentia can happen, but only in limited circumstances. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 43. A notable example of a defendant not appearing for a federal criminal case is the recent case, arising from the Mueller probe, against Concord Management and Consulting LLC (a Russian entity).

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  • Can your US federal trial in absentia go ahead if the defendant has not even been arrested, extradited and arraigned yet?
    – Rock Ape
    Mar 7 at 9:29
  • @RockApe you know I don't know offhand. I want to say yes to the extradition part. I usually don't do legal research to answer questions here (doing it properly takes time), but, since you're an admin, I'll make an exception. I'll look into it and get back to you.
    – user36183
    Mar 7 at 15:38
  • @ColinLosey don't they have to enter a plea?
    – grovkin
    Mar 8 at 11:28
  • @grovkin if D was being properly prosecuted in absentia, D's lawyers would just do that for them.
    – user36183
    Mar 8 at 14:02
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It does sound silly to try a foreigner you haven't caught ...

You ask if it would be legal and if it would be in the American interest. Colin answered on the legality, so let me cover the second part of the question. Doing so is a way for the legal system to get facts and decisions on record, which may then be used elsewhere in the legal (or political) sphere.

  • If North Korea were to put me on trial in absential for failing to respect the Dear Leader, I'd be honored about the notoriety and slightly worried that they'd send assassins after me.
  • If the United States were to put me on trial in absentia for trading with an Axis of Evil country, I'd be a lot more worried. The US might then sanction people I do business with for doing business with me, which could mean they stop doing business with me.

But going to trial is redundant if the government can simply designate a terrorist organization, which is possible under an executive order. So there is no need for a trial where the state would have to produce (and possibly disclose) evidence.

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  • The second bullet point only applies if your clients reside in the US, right? Mar 11 at 0:08
  • @raffaem, no , it applies if the client has business relationships with someone who has business relationships who uses a bank with a branch office in the US. Google Banco Delta Asia.
    – o.m.
    Mar 11 at 5:25
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Can the US put the foreign drug kingpin on trial? Say that the US has concrete evidence that the drug kingpin is responsible for crimes in the US, but they haven't managed to arrest them yet. Would it be legal for them to put them on trial in the US without their appearance?

In that fact pattern, no, it would not be allowed under U.S. law.

Other countries sometimes allow trial in absentia. The U.S. generally does not if you have never been arrested at all.

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