¡Prescription!

Cruz Martinez v. United States, No. 14-5860 (6th Cir. July 7, 2016) (en banc).

Citing an extradition treaty, Mexico asked the United States to extradite Avelino Cruz Martinez to face murder charges. Martinez claims that extradition would violate a provision in the treaty prohibiting extradition where prosecution “has become barred by lapse of time according to the laws of the requesting or requested Party.” He argues that because prosecution would violate his constitutional right to a speedy trial, that prosecution has become “barred by lapse of time” under American law. 

The question before the en banc Sixth Circuit is what the treaty means by “barred by lapse of time.” Does it refer only to the statute of limitations, or does it include a vilation of the speedy-trial right? 

The majority decides that “lapse of time” doesn’t include a violation of the speedy-trial right. It points to the Spanish version of the treaty, which uses the term prescripción—or, more exactly, cuando la acción . . . haya prescrito—to refer to when a prosecution has “become barred by lapse of time.” And prescripción—what Louisiana lawyers would call “prescription”—refers to a concept that’s very close to the statute of limitations: a civil-law rule forbidding the enforcement of a right by failing to enforce that right within a fixed period. That’s quite unlike the speedy-trial right, which can’t be violated by delay alone. Judge Clay, the author of the now-superseded panel opinion, disagrees in a dissent that is as intemperate as it is unpersuasive.