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El Chapo Enters Not Guilty Plea in New York District Court


Joaquin El Chapo Guzman was arraigned today in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn where he entered a not guilty plea to the 17 charges against him. Those charges span allegations of criminal conduct from 1989 to 2014 and include drug trafficking, money laundering, conspiracy to commit murder and firearms violations. The New York indictment is just one of 6 indictments against him in Courts in other states including California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Guzman was extradited to the United States on Thursday, January 19. The speed of the extradition of Guzman to the United States came as a surprise to many. Some speculate that Mexican officials may have planned for it to happen before today's inauguration. American officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Marshals brought Guzman from Ciudad Juarez to the United States on Thursday after a court in el D.F. denied Guzman's appeal against extradition that same day.

One of the conditions of Guzman's extradition to the United States was that he would not face the death penalty if convicted. Previously, the Mexican government had refused to extradite defendants to the United States who risked facing the death penalty or life in prison. In 2005, however, the Mexican Supreme Court struck down a constitutional provision that banned life imprisonment without chance of parole. Guzman would likely face life in prison if convicted on some or all of the charges against him.

The United States and Mexico are party to an extradition treaty that was signed in May of 1978 and took effect on January 25, 1980. An appendix to the treaty lists extraditable offenses. These include murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking offenses, and firearms offenses. Article 3 of the treaty provides that extradition shall only be granted if the evidence, according to the laws of the extraditing country, is sufficient for the defendant to stand trial.

Before someone can be extradited from Mexico, they must have a known address. Thereafter the United States must request a provisional arrest warrant that is issued by authorities in Mexico. In order to request the warrant, the Department of Justice requires a certified copy of an order for the Defendant's arrest, a certified copy of the indictment, and an extradition package.

From the date of the fugitive's arrest in Mexico on the provisional arrest warrant, the United States has 60 days to deliver a formal extradition package that includes the indictment, the arrest warrant, citation to the laws alleged to have been violated and supporting extradition, an affidavit of a case agent that includes the defendant's photo and fingerprints, and declarations of witnesses supporting the guilt of the defendant. The entire package must be translated into Spanish before being submitted to the Mexican authorities.

The decision of whether to extradite from Mexico is made by the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores who obtains an advisory opinion from a federal judge on whether extradition should be granted. If the Secretaria grants the extradition, the defendant may challenge it by filing an amparo challenging any aspect of the extradition including the arrest warrant, any search warrant, or the underlying charges against the defendant. Extradition cannot take place until any amparos are resolved.

In Guzman's case, a federal judge in Mexico ruled on October 20, 2016 in favor of extraditing Guzman to the U.S. Guzman's lawyers had previously filed 5 amparos challenging the extradition. The Judge dismissed each of them. On January 19, 2017, a federal judge in Mexico rejected Guzman's final appeal against extradition. Guzman was extradited to the U.S. the same day.

Now that he has been arraigned, the case will proceed against him in federal court. He will be provided with a defense attorney unless he chooses to hire his own attorney. The prosecutor will be required to share with Guzman's attorney the evidence against Guzman. The parties may discuss resolution short of trial, but it is highly likely that the case will go to trial. Given the number of documents and witnesses involved, it could be many months or even over a year before Guzman would proceed to trial in New York.

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