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Will Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Face Extradition To U.S.?


Now we'd like to tell you about the latest chapter in a saga that's frustrated Mexican and U.S. authorities alike. We're talking about the drug kingpin, Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo. He was recaptured Friday. He'd been missing since July, and that was his second escape from prison. Guzman's being held in Mexico for crimes there, but he's also wanted for several drug trafficking charges in multiple U.S. states. Now Mexican officials say they are willing to consider extradition to the United States. Here to tell us more about this case is Jimmy Gurule. He teaches global criminal law at the University of Notre Dame. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

JIMMY GURULE: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: We understand that he is to be returned to the same prison from which he escaped last July. Why would that be?

GURULE: Well, it's perplexing to me because as you know that was the prison from which he escaped, and it was a very bold effort on his behalf that involved a tunnel that went under the prison yard. It took one year to construct and as much as a million dollars. So the question now is why does the Mexican government believe that his security will be anymore guaranteed there now than it was before?

MARTIN: One of the things, I think, that's adding to the - kind of the friction between the U.S. and Mexico on this point is that we understand that the U.S. had issued an extradition request to prosecute Mr. Guzman in the United States some three weeks prior to his escape. And we also understand that there was some intelligence that they say was shared with Mexican authorities that this escape was planned. You know, so given all that, what is the likelihood that he will now be extradited to the U.S.?

GURULE: I think it's unlikely. Now, it's certainly possible, but I think it's highly unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, extradition involves important issues of sovereignty. And in this particular case, El Chapo was tried, convicted and sentenced in Mexico, and therefore should serve his prison sentence in Mexico. At the same time, I don't think that Mexico wants to be perceived as being dictated to by the United States and caving into U.S. extradition demands.

Further, I think that if Mexico surrenders El Chapo to the United States, that could be perceived as a tacit admission that Mexicans' criminal justice system is broken and it cannot hold major drug pins accountable such as El Chapo.

MARTIN: But is there any precedent though for extraditing an individual, even perhaps to a third country if it's been demonstrated that, for whatever reason, the legal system - the criminal justice system is not capable of incarcerating this person? I mean, is there any precedent for that based on the fact that he has two prior escapes?

GURULE: There certainly is. I mean, there's no question that Mexico has the authority, I think, the legal authority to go ahead and extradite him. There is an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. The drug offenses for which the United States is seeking to hold El Chapo accountable were extraditable offenses within that treaty, so the legal authority is there. I think the more interesting question is whether the political will is there. Having said that, I think that there is one compelling argument in favor of extradition and that is this - if he's returned to the same prison where he escaped and if he escapes again, this would be the third escape. That would be so embarrassing. That would be so humiliating to the Mexican government that their concerns regarding whether they can guarantee that he will not escape again may dictate that it would be better to release him - surrender him to U.S. authorities.

MARTIN: Jimmy Gurule is a professor of criminal law the University of Notre Dame. He joined us from South Bend. Professor Gurule, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GURULE: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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