How Does Extradition Work in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

When a person in Pennsylvania is "wanted" by law enforcement authorities from another state, they may find themselves arrested and detained in Pennsylvania pending extradition to the state that is seeking the person's return.  Understanding how extradition works in Pennsylvania can help both fugitives from justice and their families navigate what can be an involved process.

Can a fugitive from justice be arrested in Pennsylvania?

An individual in Pennsylvania who is alleged to be a fugitive from justice (sometimes referred to an an "FOJ") from another state may be arrest.  The person's arrest can take place with or without the issuance of a warrant.  Two laws govern how a fugitive from justice can be extradited to another state - The Federal Fugitive Act (codified as 18 U.S.C.A. § 3182) and the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act (codified as 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9121 et. seq.). 

After a person is arrested as a FOJ in Pennsylvania, the person and his or her family often have many questions as to the extradition process in Pennsylvania.  One such is question is, "What happens when a person who is wanted in another state is arrested in Pennsylvania?"  After the fugitive from justice is arrested, Pennsylvania and the state where the person is wanted will follow specific extradition procedures with the outcome generally being that the fugitive is either extradited to the demanding state, or released from Pennsylvania custody when applicable.

Can a "detainer" be lodged on a fugitive from justice?

When a fugitive from justice is arrested in Pennsylvania, a detainer will generally be "lodged" (imposed) against the person.  Under the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, no distinction is made between detainers based on probation or parole violations and detainers lodged based on criminal prosecutions (for example, when a person is wanted on new criminal charges, or when a person is wanted due to an outstanding arrest warrant on prior criminal charges).

What happens after a fugitive from justice is detained in Pennsylvania?

After a person is detained on a "FOJ" warrant in Pennsylvania, the law requires that the individual be brought before a judge or magistrate as soon as possible for a hearing to advise the accused of the charges against him or her, to determine if the accused is in fact the person charged, and to set bail if appropriate.  (A person detained in Pennsylvania on a FOJ warrant is entitled to bail for all offenses except for those punishable by life in prison or death.) 

What is a "governor's warrant" and what does it have to do with extradition?

After these considerations are addressed, the fugitive from justice must then await a governor's warrant from the Pennsylvania governor.  Pennsylvania's governor may issue a governor's warrant at the request of the "executive authority" (the governor) of the state having jurisdiction over the fugitive's prospective extradition.

If the governor's warrant does not arrive within 30 days of the fugitive's arrest, the accused must either be released or recommitted for a period not to exceed another 60 days to await commencement of the action.  It is important to note that the applicable time periods start on the date of the fugitive's arrest in Pennsylvania.  It is also important to note that when a fugitive warrant is lodged on a person already under arrest, the lodging of the fugitive warrant is considered, under the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, an arrest separate and apart from the fugitive's initial arrest.

What happens after a governor's warrant is issued?

Once the governor's warrant is issued, the accused, upon arrest on the governor's warrant (see above), must be taken "forthwith" before a judge of a "court of record" (usually a Court of Common Pleas judge).  At that time, the judge must inform the fugitive from justice of the accusations against him or her, the demand for the fugitive's return to the demanding state, the fugitive's right to an attorney, and the fugitive's right to test the legality of the arrest by applying for a writ of habeas corpus. As is often the case, the person may waive these rights and consent to the return to the demanding state.

What is a writ of habeas corpus and what does it have to do with Pennsylvania extradition?

Habeas corpus" literally means to "produce the body," and a writ of habeas corpus is a court order to a person or agency holding someone in custody (such as a prison warden) to deliver the imprisoned individual to the court issuing the order and to show a valid reason for that person's detention.

How long can a fugitive from justice be detained pending extradition?

In addition to testing the legality of the fugitive's arrest, a writ of habeas corpus can be filed when a fugitive's custodial detention is excessive.  The question becomes, "What will be considered excessive commitment when a fugitive from justice is detained in Pennsylvania?"

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has addressed this matter and held that when a governor's warrant did not arrive within 30 days of the fugitive's arrest and the hearing to recommit the fugitive was not held until the thirty-second day, the delay was minimal and the accused did was not entitled to relief under the law.  The Pennsylvania Superior Court has also held that a 15-day delay after the allowable 90-day period did not entitle a defendant to relief when the accused was serving a sentence on an unrelated criminal case.

When can a person challenge the legality of his or her extradition?

The legality of person's extradition must be challenged in the custodial jurisdiction (Pennsylvania in this instance) (also known as the "asylum state") prior to the person's extradition to the demanding state.  Once a fugitive is extradited to the demanding state, the fugitive will no longer have a basis to challenge the legality of the extradition. 

When Pennsylvania is the demanding state and the person has already been extradited, if the person's extradition is challenged and if it is determined that the extradition was illegal, the only relief available to a person illegally extradited by Pennsylvania is the suppression of evidence obtained as a result of the person's detention and transportation.  

Is there a difference between "extradition" and a "detainer" lodged pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers?

Unlike a request for extradition, which is technically a request that the state in which the person is incarcerated (Pennsylvania in this instance) transfer custody to the requesting state, a detainer lodged pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers ("IAD") (codified under Pa.C.S.A. § 9140) is merely a means of informing the custodial jurisdiction (Pennsylvania) that there are outstanding charges pending in another jurisdiction (the demanding state) and requesting that the custodial jurisdiction hold the person for the requesting state or notify the demandingstate of the person's release.

PCRA Considerations and Pennsylvania Extradition Law

Under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), if a petitioner's conviction and sentence resulted from a trial conducted in his or her absence (a trial held "in absentia"), and if the petitioner has fled to a foreign country that refuses to extradite him or her because a trial in absentia was employed, the petitioner is entitled to a new trial if the country that refuses extradition agrees to return the petitioner and if the petitioner upon his or her return to Pennsylvania requests as such.

Philadelphia Attorney for Extradition Hearing | Lawyer for Pennsylvania Extradition Hearing

Being wanted on criminal charges (or a probation or parole arrest warrant) is difficult enough, and being wanted on criminal charges (or a probation or parole arrest warrant) in another jurisdiction while living or traveling through Pennsylvania can complicate an already difficult situation. 

If you or a loved one is facing an extradition hearing, or the prospect of an extradition hearing in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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