Why El Chapo Might Not Face Trial In Brooklyn… Or Anywhere Else

A lot of things will have to happen before he’s even extradited.

14/02/2016 6:25 AM AEDT | Updated 14/02/2016 8:07 AM AEDT

A wave of reports poured through the media this week saying that recently recaptured drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera “could be tried in Brooklyn,” where he is indicted on murder and narcotics trafficking charges.

That tentative statement has been true since at least 2009, when a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York first indicted Guzmán. The same parade of reports, often with virtually identical headlines, popped up after he was captured last month.

Brooklyn may have an advantage over other jurisdictions hoping to prosecute Guzmán partly because U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has prosecuted narcotics cases, served as the chief federal prosecutor in Brooklyn during the time when his indictment was updated to include murder charges.

But the prediction that Guzmán might come to Brooklyn is premature. He might not stand trial there or anywhere else.

Here’s a few things that could happen instead. 

He could indefinitely avoid extradition.

Rebecca Blackwell/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, pictured with Mexican army soldiers after his arrest on Jan. 8, had won a tentative injunction against extradition before authorities recaptured him.

Mexican law offers lots of opportunities to challenge extradition. Guzmán had won a tentative injunction against extradition before he was even recaptured last month. He’s since filed several other challenges to his extradition in Mexico, as well as submitting a claim in court that prison authorities are abusing him. His lawyers allege human rights violations including that guards wake Guzmán every two hours and expose him to freezing temperatures. 

Lynch told Univision’s Jorge Ramos on Friday that she hoped the extradition process wouldn’t take more than a few months, but the Mexican media has reported that the process could take up to six years. Mexican officials have said they are working to expedite the process, but if past experience is any guide, it could take a while. It took the Mexican government five years to extradite the brutal Beltrán Leyva cartel enforcer Edgar “La Barbie” Villarreal -- and he’s an American citizen.  

El Chapo could be tried somewhere else.

While the Justice Department reportedly wants to push the trial toward Brooklyn, it has yet to make an official decision. Until it does, the possibility remains that he could face a trial anywhere else he’s been indicted -- Miami, Chicago, New Hampshire, San Diego, Manhattan or El Paso.

He could escape again before getting extradited.

A Mexican federal police officer inside the tunnel through which "El Chapo" Guzmán escaped from Altiplano maximum-security prison last year. Don't rule out the possibility it could happen again, warns former Mexican intelligence official Alejandro Hope.

It may sound far-fetched, but he’s done it twice before and facing extradition to the U.S. makes the will to escape all the more urgent. Guards may surround him 24 hours a day and move him between cells periodically, but those extraordinary measures likely won’t last because they’re too expensive, according to former Mexican intelligence official Alejandro Hope.

“Could he escape again? Yes,” Hope said at a conference at the Wilson Center last month. “At least don’t rule it out. That should be the ruling hypothesis.”

El Chapo could break out of a U.S. prison.

As Mexican officials repeatedly noted when criticized for letting “El Chapo” break out of jail in July, sometimes Americans who are way less powerful than Guzmán also manage to escape from maximum-security prisons.  

He could plead guilty.

If he does, like high-level Mexican kingpins often do, he won’t face a trial in any district.

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