Murder suspect caught at Miami airport with one-way ticket to Vietnam
Donna Adelson, 73, was charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation in connection with the 2014 death of a Tallahassee law professor.
Investigators quashed the travel plans of Donna Adelson and her husband, Harvey, after listening to recorded jail calls she had with her incarcerated son, Charlie Adelson. At one point she talked about traveling to a country without an extradition treaty with the United States. Such countries lack a formal agreement with the U.S. about how fugitives are detained and released into the custody of U.S. authorities.
Her attempted flight came one week after her son was convicted in the murder of Dan Markel, a 41-year-old law professor at Florida State University, who was fatally shot by hit men in July 2014 in the garage of his Tallahassee home. The murder-for-hire plot occurred amid a nasty court fight between him and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, Charlie Adelson’s younger sister and Dona Adelson’s daughter.
Last Wednesday, Donna Adelson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation in Markel’s death – the same crimes for which her son was convicted. She booked the flight to Vietnam with a stop in Dubai the day after Charlie Adelson was found guilty.
Her arrest at Miami International Airport raised questions about the extradition process, and how it varies depending on what country the U.S. is requesting extradition. Here is how the complex diplomatic process works, at least in the U.S.
What is extradition?
International extradition is a legal process by which one country requests another country to detain and release to them a person who is wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence following following a criminal conviction, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Generally, the process is regulated by treaty and conducted between the federal government of the U.S. and the government of a foreign country. Most of the time, extradition may be granted only if there’s a treaty between the U.S. and the country being requested to extradite; however, some countries grant extradition without a treaty.
How does extradition work?
The process of extradition varies greatly, depending on the country involved.
If the country has a treaty with the U.S., a court will first determine whether the extradition request meets the requirements of the extradition treaty and the law of the requested country. If it does, the judicial authority will decide whether the person may be extradited, according to the DOJ.
If the judicial authority approves, the case will go before the requested country – usually a prime minister, minister of justice or minister of foreign affairs. The executive authority will then decide whether the requested country will surrender the person to the United States.
Depending on the country involved, both the judicial ruling and the executive decision to surrender the wanted person can be appealed. Once the requested country is ready to surrender the person, its authorities will coordinate with authorities in the U.S. to transfer the wanted person.
Can you escape extradition in countries without a treaty?
Jacques Semmelman, a former assistant U.S. attorney and expert on international extradition law, told USA TODAY that while a lack of a formal extradition treaty “may be a challenge, it’s not a brick wall.”
In countries without an extradition treaty, the U.S. State Department will send what’s called a diplomatic note to the foreign ministry of the requested country, saying an American citizen has fled in the face of criminal charges and the United States government wants him or her back.
Meanwhile, a prosecutorial team in the U.S. will compile a supporting package providing evidence of the crime that goes to the country being requested. If there’s no extradition treaty between the requested country and the U.S., the country has total discretion whether it wants to cooperate.
In the case of Donna Adelson, who was trying to flee to Vietnam, she could have still been extradited as the country has a history of cooperating with extraditions requests from the United States.
For example, in 2016, authorities in Vietnam extradited a man charged with attempting to defraud investors out of more than $8 million using several investment companies back to the U.S. And in 2020, a man from Nevada was arrested in Vietnam and extradited back on child exploitation charges.
How long does it take for someone to be extradited?
Extradition can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the complexity of the proceedings, according to the DOJ.
Countries with no extradition treaty with US
Semmelman said countries blatantly hostile to the United States, like Iran, are the least likely to extradite someone to the U.S., though he said each country has its own way of doing things.
Some countries have local legislation that prohibits certain types of extradition. For example, some countries will not extradite their own citizens, but might extradite citizens of other countries, including the United States.
“There’s a wide range of situations depending on which country is involved,” he said.
Contributing: Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat