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Making Extradition Easier

December 16, 2003

David A. Garcia is scheduled to appear in a Los Angeles court next week, charged with murder in the Nov. 15 shooting of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka. Garcia's arrest in Tijuana followed a two-week manhunt involving 1,000 police officers from agencies on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. It was a remarkable effort, the kind of cross-jurisdictional cooperation that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been pushing as a response to all violent gang crimes. It was also, at least as far as Mexico's involvement goes, something of a fluke.

The U.S. agencies had nothing but praise for their Mexican counterparts' help in tracking down the 19-year-old Sun Valley resident. What qualified as a minor miracle was Garcia's speedy return to California for trial. The state did not have to formally request extradition. Mexico expelled Garcia, a U.S. citizen, for violating immigration laws.

Had Garcia been a Mexican national and the immigration angle not been available, the best police work in the world wouldn't have budged him. Garcia is eligible for the death penalty, which Mexico does not recognize, but that would not have been the sole block. In dealing with other nations that refuse to extradite a fugitive who faces execution, U.S. prosecutors generally agree to seek a life sentence. But a 2001 ruling by Mexico's highest court also barred extraditions in cases that could result in life in prison.

As a result of this ruling, Jorge "Armando" Arroyo Garcia, the Mexican national accused of the April 2002 killing of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March in Irwindale, remains out of reach of California courts as long as he stays in Mexico. So does Daniel Perez, accused in 1999 of kidnapping and battering his estranged wife, Anabelle Vera, in Fontana, then of killing her father, who had been a key witness against him on the first charges. And so does Alvaro Luna Jara, charged with killing 12-year-old Steven Morales in a 1998 drive-by shooting.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, flanked by Baca, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and elected officials from across the political spectrum, called on President Bush to renegotiate the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty to ensure that suspects in the most serious crimes cannot find a haven from justice in Mexico.

But California doesn't have to wait for the federal government to act. States with more-flexible sentencing laws have been able to accommodate the Mexican court ruling, which allows for sentences of up to 60 years. They are hardly being soft on crime when the alternative is never even bringing the fugitive to trial. Being able to extradite prisoners from Mexico is not the sole reason for the Legislature to reexamine California's strict, fixed sentencing laws. But with the Little Hoover Commission and others already calling for reform, it's one more reason to do so.

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