In an international criminal investigation, the United States will sometimes enlist the help of other nations when investigating suspected crimes committed at home or abroad. This may include asking another country to use its law enforcement resources to investigate a crime, or the U.S. sending its own law enforcement agents to investigate in another country. The U.S. may also ask another nation to carry out certain actions such as tracing, freezing, or seizing bank accounts or proceeds thought to be derived from criminal activity. While law enforcement officers in foreign countries are only subject to their laws while on their soil, U.S. law enforcement officers working abroad must operate in compliance with both the laws of the United States and of the country where they are located.
Evidence obtained by foreign police is generally allowed in U.S. courts even if that evidence was obtained by means illegal under U.S. law. One exception to this rule is if U.S. agents played a very substantial role in obtaining the evidence. Law enforcement may also employ the help of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Interpol is an international organization, consisting of 187 member nations, that facilitates cooperation between police forces in various countries. Generally, Interpol helps with the investigations of crimes that overlap several nations. These crimes include terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, child pornography, intellectual property offenses, and corruption.
A country may also be bound by treaties to carry out some function. A treaty is simply an international agreement which creates binding obligations between two or more nations. Two of the most important types of treaties in criminal law are extradition treaties and mutual legal assistance treaties.
Prosecuting a defendant involved in an international investigation also raises questions of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction simply means the court has the authority to punish the defendant. Jurisdictional issues may become very complicated when a crime involves more than one country or was committed outside the United States. The general rule is that jurisdiction resides solely in the courts of the country where the crime was committed. However, the United States may extend its jurisdiction over someone in a foreign country, or someone who committed a crime in a foreign country, if the U.S. can show that doing so is consistent with international law.
International law tends to be largely theoretical. There are, however, several ways a country may assert jurisdiction over a person accused of a crime. First, a country may exercise jurisdiction if the offense occurred within the country, or if the effects are felt within the county. Second, a country may assert jurisdiction if the offender is a national of that country. This allows a country to prosecute offenses committed by its citizens abroad. Third, power may be exercised over a defendant if it is based on the protection of the nation’s interests, security, and integrity. For example, making false statements on a visa application may be enough to acquire jurisdiction. Finally, a nation may have universal jurisdiction which gives it authority to prosecute universally prohibited acts such as piracy and war crimes.
If you are involved in a multinational criminal investigation, you need a criminal defense attorney experienced in matters involving jurisdiction and international criminal law. Our firm has substantial/significant/extensive experience in complex international criminal investigations, and we may be able to help.
The information provided above is a very general summary of the law of multinational investigations at the time this text was prepared. Because this analysis is subject to change depending upon recent cases and legal developments, you should not rely on this summary as legal advice. As with any important legal question, you should always consult a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Our lawyers are licensed to practice in all state and federal courts in Georgia and have been admitted to practice in many other federal district courts.