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Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong. Perhaps you too will someday flee. Better know how the United States brings home people it calls criminals.
Alessandro Pautasso Flickr Commons
So you were accused of a crime and fled the country. How do you avoid being sent home and put on trial?
Location, location, location
First of all, did you end up in any of the places shown in blue below? Hopefully not. Those are the more than 100 countries with which the United States has signed extradition treaties over the past 200 years. Some countries without treaties might even be willing to hand you over if the United States agrees to reciprocate.
If you find yourself in one of those places, hide quickly. You might not have much time before the local officials come looking for you. Even though it can take a while for US authorities to gather the affidavits, arrest warrants, indictments and other documents needed for a formal extradition request, it’s possible in an urgent case that you could meanwhile be arrested on a provisional extradition request.
How bad was the crime?
If your case isn’t deemed urgent, you might have slightly more time. In most places, the United States has between one and three months to ask for your return. That process itself can take awhile. Once the Office of International Affairs receives and reviews the necessary documents, they are passed on to the State Department for translation into your hideout spot’s native tongue. Once translated, the State Department sends them to the American Embassy in your country, which will give them to the national government, which will pass them on to the court. The court then determines whether the request is valid.
You could be found non-extraditable. Maybe you’re a national of the country you fled to. Maybe your crime just didn’t fit the bill. Or maybe the harboring country doesn't support the death penalty like the United States. You’re not necessarily home free, though, as the United States might still be able to get you deported, expelled, tried in the foreign country, or even possibly abducted. Beware of lures that lead you into someone else’s jurisdiction, where the United States can swoop down and try again.
If the court does decide you should be arrested and sent back to the United States, you may have the option to appeal. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to go the conventional route, and find a good lawyer to defend you upon your return to the States.