In a divided en banc decision, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee’s decision to deny a petition for habeas corpus. Cruz Martinez v. United States involves the extradition of a United States citizen, Avelino Cruz Martinez, to Mexico after his involvement in two murders there over seven years earlier.
On December 31, 2005, Cruz Martinez allegedly shot Samuel Francisco Solano Cruz and a bystander who tried to help him at a New Year’s party in Santa María Natividad, a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Solano Cruz’s family accused Cruz Martinez of the shooting. Within two weeks, Solano Cruz’s widow and Cruz Martinez’s wife and brother met before a town clerk and signed an agreement that stated Cruz Martinez committed the homicide. The agreement concluded that if Cruz Martinez’s family paid Solano Cruz’s family 50,000 pesos, “the matter shall be closed.” A few days later, two eyewitnesses accused Cruz Martinez of the murder, and an Oaxacan judge issued an arrest warrant charging Cruz Martinez with murder with the aggravating circumstance of unfair advantage. Cruz Martinez lived the next years of his life openly in the United States, unaware of the warrant for his arrest. In May 2012, the Mexican government filed a diplomatic note with the U.S. Department of State requesting Cruz Martinez’s provisional arrest. American authorities arrested him over a year later, and Mexican officials filed a formal extradition request in August 2013, invoking a 1978 extradition treaty. Cruz Martinez filed a habeas corpus petition, claiming that his extradition would violate Article 7 of the treaty, which prohibits extradition when “prosecution” or “enforcement of the penalty” for the charged offense “has become barred by lapse of time according to the laws of the requesting or requested Party.”
In affirming the district court, the majority opinion, written by Judge Sutton, first analyzed the applicable statute of limitations, and found that the statute of limitations did not expire even if a five-year period for second-degree murder applied. The majority explained that Mexico lacks the sort of indictment and information procedures that exist in the United States and stop the statute of limitations from running. In Mexico, the issuance of an arrest warrant marks the beginning of prosecution, which stops the statute of limitations from running. Therefore, because a Mexican court issued an arrest warrant within two months of the shooting, the statute of limitations did not bar the prosecution. Judge Clay ultimately agreed with this analysis in his dissent.
The main issue that divided the Sixth Circuit concerned whether or not Article 7’s “barred by lapse of time” provision embodies the Speedy Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The majority first analyzed the text of Article 7, finding that the Sixth Amendment does not establish a time limit after which the trial must be called off, and therefore does not bar criminal prosecutions due to “lapse of time.” Determining whether a violation of the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause occurred instead requires a balancing test of four factors that includes the length of delay, but also includes “the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Finally, the majority determined that the Spanish equivalent to “lapse of time,” “prescripción,” describes only the statute of limitations.
The majority also analyzed context, history, and precedent to determine that the extradition treaty does not embody the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause. Judge Sutton discussed the use of the phrase “lapse of time” in other extradition treaties as a synonym for “statute of limitations” and “barred by limitation.” The majority also cites cases from the Eleventh Circuit, district courts, and magistrate judges that concluded that the phrase “lapse of time” encompasses only statutes of limitation. Although the district court in Mylonas ruled that “lapse of time or other lawful cause” in an extradition treaty with Greece applied to speedy-trial violations, the majority found that the Eleventh Circuit disapproved of Mylonas, the treaty with Mexico does not use the same language, and the case was not on anybody’s radar when drafting the extradition treaty with Mexico. Finally, the majority discussed commentary and the default rule from Factor (which requires courts to “interpret extradition treaties to produce reciprocity between, and expanded rights on behalf of, the signatories”), both of which Judge Sutton concluded support the finding that the extradition treaty only embodies statutes of limitations rather than the speedy-trial rights.
Ultimately, Judge Clay argued in his dissent that “the majority leaves out the most important facts, disregards both the plain language and the plain purpose of Article 7, relies on a cascade of inapposite citations, and rests its conclusion on an erroneous presumption in favor of extradition,” and that its holding “would allow the United States government to extradite one of its own citizens to face prosecution in Mexico even if doing so would result in a criminal prosecution of the U.S. citizen in violation of the U.S. Constitution.” Judge Clay emphasizes the “requesting or requested Party” language in Article 7 to conclude that the treaty incorporates the laws of both Mexico and the United States, including the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause. The dissent asserts that the Speedy Trial Clause is essential to protect against untimely prosecution in the American legal system, and urged the Sixth Circuit to remand the case for an application of the Speedy Trial Clause balancing test, which Judge Clay contemplated Cruz Martinez could satisfy.