Update on the Alexander Hilton Extradition Case

I’ve written several posts on the extradition case of Alexander Hilton here in Boston. Here’s my summary from the first post:

Hilton, then a student at St. Andrews University, was accused by the Scottish authorities of the attempted murder of Robert Forbes, a fellow student, in March 2011. The claim was that Hilton induced Forbes “to consume a quantity of methanol mixed with red wine.” After the Scottish authorities made a request for extradition, Hilton was arrested on a complaint brought by the US Attorney under 18 U.S.C. § 3184.

Hilton conceded that there was a valid extradition treaty, that the crime charged was covered by the treaty, and that the government had shown probable cause to believe that he had committed the offense charged. However, he resisted extradition. He pointed to his mental health problems, which the magistrate judge could not justify relief. He also claimed that extradition would violate his constitutional rights because under Scots law, Hilton would be tried by a jury of 15, and he could be convicted by a majority vote of the jury.

The magistrate judge rejected this argument and issued a certificate of extraditability.


After the magistrate judge’s decision, Hilton petitioned for habeas corpus. The District Court denied the petition, and the First Circuit affirmed. Here was my take on the First Circuit decision:

The decision was pretty much as expected. The court emphasized the judiciary’s minimal role in extradition proceedings, limited to determining whether there is an extradition treaty in effect, whether the crime charged falls within the treaty’s scope, and whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain the charge. If so, the magistrate is required to issue a certificate of extraditability, and it is then solely for the Secretary of State to determine whether to extradite. Under the rule of non-inquiry, the courts are not to consider the fairness or humaneness of the foreign legal system; such matters are for the executive.

Hilton’s claims regarding the effect his treatment in Scotland would have on his mental health were, the court reasoned, claims about the humaneness of the Scottish system barred by the rule of non-inquiry. The claim about Scotland’s jury system also failed under the rule of non-inquiry. Hilton also argued that because the Senate was not adequately informed of Scotland’s jury system, its advice and consent to the ratification of the extradition treaty was invalid, but the court treated this as a nonjusticiable political question. Hilton can seek relief, but he must seek it from the Secretary of State, not the courts.

Since then, Hilton has been in limbo as he waited for the Secretary of State to rule on his petition for relief. (Readers who have followed my coverage will know that in my view the executive branch is the proper place for these sorts of discretionary calls to be made). On April 13, however, the Secretary denied his petition, and it appears he is now in custody pending transfer to Scotland. So it seems the US aspect of the case is now at an end, though of course the process in Scotland is just beginning.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

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