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Appellee Dimitrios Skaftouros, a Greek native, was wanted in Greece on charges including direct complicity in the murder of a minor and was certified as extraditable despite his arguments he made regarding Greece's compliance with its own criminal procedure. He petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus before the district court, arguing that he was "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States," 28 U.S.C. [section] 2241(c)(3), because two requirements of the Extradition Treaty between the United States and Greece had not been met. The district court granted habeas and dismissed the extradition proceedings against him. The United States appeals the grant of habeas.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reverses the judgment and vacates the writ of habeas corpus, holding that the district court erred in finding that the United States had the burden of proving that Greece failed to comply with its own laws. The Court further holds that Skaftouros did not and would not be able to carry the burden of proving that the requirements of the Treaty were not met.

The Court describes the legal standards for reviewing extradition proceedings. "At an extradition hearing, the 'judicial officer's inquiry is confined to the following: whether a valid treaty exists; whether the crime charged is covered by the relevant treaty; and whether the evidence marshaled in support of the complaint for extradition is sufficient under the applicable standard of proof.' Cheung v. United States, 213 F.3d 82, 88 (2d Cir. 2000)." [Slip op. 16]

The Court finds that the district court erred in applying the legal standards. Initially, the district court erred by imposing the burden of proof on the United States instead of Skaftouros. "[I]t was error for the District Court to effectively impose on the Government the burden of proving that Skaftouros was not 'in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.' 28 U.S.C. [section] 2241(c)(3)." [Slip op. 21]

It is important to keep in mind that a habeas corpus proceeding is one that seeks to overturn a presumptively valid judgment. "Because we accord a presumption of validity to a judgment on collateral review, it is the petitioner who bears the burden of proving that he is being held contrary to law; and because the habeas proceeding is civil in nature, the petitioner must satisfy his burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence." [Slip op. 21]

Since the Court does not find any contrary authority, it determined that this same burden and standard of proof should be applied in a habeas petition arising from international extradition proceedings. "[C]ollateral review of an international extradition order should begin with the presumption that both the order and the related custody of the fugitive are lawful." [Slip op. 22]

The Court therefore holds that, "in order to merit habeas relief in a proceeding seeking collateral review of an extradition order, the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is 'in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States,' 28 U.S.C. [section] 2241(c)(3), which, in this context, will typically mean in violation of the federal extradition statute, 18 U.S.C. [section] 3184, or the applicable extradition treaty." [Slip op. 22]

Next, the Court examines the Appellee's inability to prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the arrest warrant provided by the Greek government did not satisfy the Treaty's requirement of a "duly authenticated warrant" sufficient to show that he was charged with a crime covered by the United States--Greek Treaty. Usually, producing an arrest warrant authenticated by a United States diplomatic officer is enough to satisfy the requirement. However, the district court erred by imposing on the government the burden of proving that the warrant was valid according to Greek law.

Concerned solely with the requirements of the Treaty and the federal extradition statute, the Court finds that the arrest warrant was satisfactory and therefore prosecutable. "Greece fully complied with this requirement by submitting a warrant for Skaftouros's arrest that was authenticated by the U.S. Ambassador to Greece, along with an indictment demonstrating the existence of probable cause to believe Skaftouros had committed the crime charged. In most cases, the production of an arrest warrant authenticated by the principal diplomatic officer of the United States in the demanding country will suffice to satisfy a treaty's 'duly authenticated warrant' requirement." [Slip op. 24]

CITATION: Skaftouros v. United States, 2011 WL 6355163 (2d Cir. Dec. 20, 2011).
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Publication:International Law Update
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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