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While extradition treaties exist, the worldwide network of extradition treaties is quite sparse, and in addition many countries have a policy to never extradite their own citizens.

This might lead one to wonder: if someone commits a crime (an uncontroversial, completely non-political crime, e.g. old fashioned theft or murder) in country A, then escapes to country B, who cannot extradite him back to A, what typically happens next? Do the two governments arrange an ad hoc extradition agreement, or does country B's authorities deal with the criminal themselves, or might he simply walk free?

In the case of the second possibility, how common is this? (I.e. is it common to prosecute someone for a crime committed overseas?) And wouldn't that potentially be a very arduous undertaking? Considering, for example that all the evidence and witnesses would be in country A. It also may be difficult for lawyers and judges in country B to discuss and understand a case that occurred in country A, if those countries are far apart geographically and speak different languages.

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  • 2
    Politics always play a part in cases where extradition is a factor.
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 20:00
  • 1
    @RonBeyer: Almost always. Intra-EU is a rare exception. The EU says so much: No political involvement
    – MSalters
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 20:45

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Countries can, and do, extradite accused criminals even in the absence of an extradition treaty. There is always some political context to any extradition decision. In particular the sending country's judgement of the fairness of the requesting country's system of courts will be a factor.

As to the practicalities, the requesting country will often supply hearing transcripts with its request. In some cases witness may travel to the potential sending country to testify at a hearing there.

Some countries will prosecute a person found in their jurisdiction for crimes allegedly committed elsewhere. Others will not, or only in limited circumstnces.

Some treaties, such as the treaty on air piracy, require a county to either extradite or prosecute an accused.

There is no one answer to what happens in such circumstances.

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Some countries don't extradite their own citizens at all. So in such cases a criminal is safe if he/she manages to get to their home-country after committing a crime in another country.

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  • The criminal will also need to avoid prosecution in their home country. Then again, there are countries that are somewhat welcome to moderately rich criminals and readilly give citizenship.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 13:52
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    Nonsense. This is not true at all for almost every country. Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 19:10
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This might lead one to wonder: if someone commits a crime (an uncontroversial, completely non-political crime, e.g. old fashioned theft or murder) in country A, then escapes to country B, who cannot extradite him back to A, what typically happens next?

In Germany they will be charged for that crime based on §7 (2) of the German Criminal Code.

You may find that in many countries that presently (or in the past) do not extradite their own citizens (in continental Europe quite common until the 20th century) that some provision exists in their criminal code that deals with this matter.


§7 German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch – StGB)

Section 7 Other offences committed abroad

(1) German criminal law applies to offences committed abroad against a German national if the act is a criminal offence at the place of its commission or if that place is not subject to any criminal law jurisdiction.

(2) German criminal law applies to other offences committed abroad if the act is a criminal offence at the place of its commission or if that place is not subject to any criminal law jurisdiction and if the offender

  1. was a German national at the time of the offence or became a German national after its commission or

  2. was a foreign national at the time of the offence, was found to be staying in Germany and, although extradition legislation would permit extradition for such an offence, is not extradited because no request for extradition is made within a reasonable period, is rejected or the extradition is not feasible.

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This might lead one to wonder: if someone commits a crime (an uncontroversial, completely non-political crime, e.g. old fashioned theft or murder) in country A, then escapes to country B, who cannot extradite him back to A, what typically happens next?

As another answer notes:

Countries can, and do, sometimes extradite accused criminals even in the absence of an extradition treaty.

Usually, the first step is for law enforcement in the country where the crime was committed to discover the location of the suspect and contact officials in their own country's diplomatic service to have them request extradition from diplomats in the country where the suspect is located.

Do the two governments arrange an ad hoc extradition agreement, or does country B's authorities deal with the criminal themselves, or might he simply walk free? In the case of the second possibility, how common is this? (I.e. is it common to prosecute someone for a crime committed overseas?)

An ad doc extradition agreement wouldn't be uncommon. It would be very rare for country B's authorities to try or punish the criminal themselves for crimes committed abroad. It isn't that is has never happened, but it almost never does (incidentally, the same principle does not apply to civil lawsuits which usually can be tried where the defendant is found and resides or has a headquarters even if the underlying incident took place abroad; I've personally litigated such a case).

If the suspect is not extradited, that person would very rarely be prosecuted in country B, although the suspect might be deported if the suspect is not a citizen of country B and country B thinks that it is probable that the suspect committed a crime (this is what the U.S. would probably do if a non-citizen was suspected of having committed a serious crime abroad in a country to which did not want to extradite the individual, for example, due to a death penalty available in the place where the crime like drug possession was committed).

Customary international law, which not all countries (including the U.S., see Manuel Noriega) honor strictly, forbids extraterritorial prosecution for crimes that are not crimes under the territorial scope and criminal laws of the place that is prosecuting the crime.

An extraterritorial criminal prosecution would usually only take place for something like a war crime under a concept known as "universal jurisdiction" over crimes against all of humanity that is recognized in some countries. Another exception applies to crimes such as piracy committed on the high seas where no state has territorial criminal jurisdiction, which are often prosecuted by whomever captures the suspects in this "no man's land".

Ultimately, whether there would be an extradition depends upon the country in question ("is there an extradition treaty in place between the countries?"), the severity of the crime (extradition is not available for minor crimes), and the nature of the crime (extradition is usually available only if something is a crime of similar high severity in both jurisdictions).

The U.S. process and statistics on it, are explained in another Law.SE answer:

Each year since 1990, OIA has opened between 670 to 950 extradition cases based on requests from U.S. prosecutors and foreign governments. During the same time period, OIA closed between 380 to 960 cases per year. OIA's case closure rate has not kept pace with the number of new cases, resulting in a pending caseload 2 that has increased over 100 percent since 1990. As of November 2000, OIA had 3,636 extradition cases pending - approximately 1,100 cases where fugitives wanted by foreign governments were believed to be in the United States and approximately 2,500 cases where fugitives wanted by the United States were believed to be in foreign countries.

In theory, felons who flee abroad can and will be routinely extradited to face criminal charges, even in international cases.

In practice, the process is sufficiently cumbersome that it is reserved for the most egregious cases, and even then, it takes a long time to make it happen.

The following example illustrates this point:

A Colorado man wanted as a suspect in a 2016 sexual assault case has been extradited from Ecuador to Jefferson County. Peter Robert Dettmer, 69, faces 126 sexual assault charges, according to a district attorney’s office news release. He was extradited last Wednesday. Dettmer was arrested in Colorado on June 10, 2016, on multiple sex assault charges and entered a plea of not guilty on Aug. 29, 2016, court records show. He then failed to appear for a trial scheduled for Jan. 23, 2017.

Arrested in Cuenca, Ecuador, on April 27, Dettmer’s extradition was carried out by the FBI with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Department of State, the DA’s office news release said. His is the second extradition from Ecuador to the United States in the past 27 years.

From the Denver Post reporting on November 30, 2021.

There is little doubt that the extraordinary effort made to apprehend and extradite this man, and Ecuador's willingness to cooperate, would not have happened if the charges the defendant was arraigned for before fleeing to Ecuador had not been so extraordinarily severe under both the law of the U.S. and the law of Ecuador. Ecuador has no desire to have a heinous serial rapist in its country.

Similarly, notwithstanding this fact, it would not have happened if the U.S. had allowed the death penalty for the offense, as in the case in many murder cases, which Ecuador does not.

Rates of extradition also, necessarily, depend in part on the number of cases that come up, with it being rarer between countries between which there is little migration. There are surely many more extradition cases between the U.S. and Canada, for example, than between the U.S. and Ecuador.

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