Fugitives from justice Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Defendants who escape trial by fleeing the jurisdiction of state courts.

Article IV, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires the extradition of fugitives to face justice, a requirement that the Supreme Court upheld in the early years of the republic. In Kentucky v. Dennison[case]Kentucky v. Dennison[Kentucky v. Dennison] (1861), however, the Court reversed itself. It denied a writ of mandamus to the state of Kentucky to force William Dennison, the governor of Ohio, to extradite a free African American named Willis Lago accused of aiding in the escape of slaves. The Court argued that it had no power to compel a state governor to extradite a fugitive under his or her protection.

Dennison remained the Court’s position until 1987, when in Puerto Rico v. Branstad,[case]Puerto Rico v. Branstad[Puerto Rico v. Branstad] the Court overturned Dennison and ruled that state executives had no discretionary powers over the judiciary process of criminal extradition. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico successfully forced a writ of mandamus against Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa, who sought to shield Ronald Calder from a perceived unfair murder trial in Puerto Rico. Branstad ended a trend that started with Dennison of state governors refusing to extradite fugitives charged with politically sensitive crimes.

Chase, Salmon P.

Fugitive slaves

Interstate compacts

Kentucky v. Dennison

States’ rights and state sovereignty

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