Extradition showcases the long arm of the law

Judge Greg Galler
Legal Columnist

“You can’t outrun the long arm of the law.” That was a popular refrain from a Kenny Rogers song from many years ago.

Fugitives from justice can understand the idea of the long arm of the law through a legal process known as extradition. Extradition deals with one state returning someone to another state to stand trial or to be sentenced in a criminal court action.

The origin and etymology of the word “extradition” is interesting. The prefix “ex” means “out of” or “from.” The remainder of the word “tradition” is commonly used today to refer to the “handing down” of customs. However it originally meant to “hand over” something. Thus, together the word “extradition” means to hand a person over from one state to another state.

An extradition case is not complicated to understand. However, as it can require three warrants – between two states and two court systems – and the signatures of two governors, a lot of time and paperwork can sometimes be expended.

Let’s assume that Bob Burglar is charged with a felony burglary in Wisconsin. Before trial begins, Bob flees to Minnesota. Wisconsin issues an arrest warrant for Bob. Bob is later arrested in Minnesota.

This warrant gave the Minnesota law enforcement officers legal authority to arrest Bob. After his arrest, Minnesota officials will check to see that Wisconsin still wants Bob to be returned. A state that wants someone returned is known as the “demanding state.”

For some minor offenses, states that issue arrest warrants may not want to spend the money to have the person returned. If that is the case, then the warrant is quashed and the person is released.

In our case, Wisconsin wants Bob to be returned. To effect his return, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker must sign a requisition warrant. It officially and formally “requests” that Bob Burglar be returned to Wisconsin.

Upon Minnesota’s receipt of the requisition warrant, Bob has a right to a contested evidentiary hearing. With a few minor exceptions, the only real issue at the hearing is whether or not Bob is in fact the same person that Wisconsin is looking for.

Most people waive their right to an extradition hearing and agree to be sent back to the demanding state. With modern databases that instantaneously transmit identifying information such as fingerprints, photographs and DNA profiles, there is usually little dispute as to the person’s identity.

If the hearing confirms that Bob is the right person, or if Bob waives his right to the hearing, then Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton will sign a rendition Warrant. This is the third warrant. It “renders” Bob over to the State of Wisconsin. Wisconsin officials will then come to Minnesota to pick up Bob.

On his way back to Wisconsin, Bob may also recall the familiar refrain that “you can’t outrun the long arm of the law.”

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. Send general questions about the law or courts for Judge Galler to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns, at www.judgegreggaller.com.

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