Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer is already one of the most vilified individuals in the United States. Palmer paid $50,000 to lure a lion with bait, kill him with a bow and arrow, cut off his head and skin him. What Palmer viewed as a good time has turned into a nightmare after he bagged Cecil the Lion, a famous lion in Zimbabwe. Cecil was lured out of the park sanctuary with a dead animal on top of a vehicle. He was wearing a collar and was first wounded and then hunted down the next day for the kill by Palmer. He then left Zimbabwe just in time to avoid arrest. Not so lucky was the head of the safari and the owner of the land upon which Cecil was killed. Now, Palmer has become the prey as Zimbabwe announced that it is seeking his extradition for prosecution.
Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister, wants Palmer brought to justice in Zimbabwe, a prospect that the wealthy trophy hunter obviously does not relish.
The United States does have a treaty with Zimbabwe for such extradition, even though no one has been extradited since it took effect in 2000. The request must be made to the State Department and then conveyed to the Justice Department. While the U.S. does not determine guilt or innocence as a condition for extradition, it does seek to confirm that the underlying conduct is a crime in both countries. Since Palmer is accused of an illegal hunt without necessary permits (among other alleged crimes), it would seem to qualify.
Ironically, the best hope for Palmer is Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, a corrupt authoritarian figure despised by the Administration and most Americans. Since extradition is a political matter, the politics work heavily against cooperation with the corrupt regime of Mugabe. There is also the fact that both the courts and prisons in Zimbabwe are notoriously bad.
As a result, the legal basis for extradition is solid but the political basis for extradition is more difficult. For Palmer, he clearly has few friends left in this country. However, the only thing better than a lot of friends is one common enemy in the body of Robert Mugabe.
The federal rule for extradition states:
§ 3184. Fugitives from foreign country to United States
Whenever there is a treaty or convention for extradition between the United States and any foreign government, or in cases arising under section 3181(b), any justice or judge of the United States, or any magistrate authorized so to do by a court of the United States, or any judge of a court of record of general jurisdiction of any State, may, upon complaint made under oath, charging any person found within his jurisdiction, with having committed within the jurisdiction of any such foreign government any of the crimes provided for by such treaty or convention, or provided for under section 3181(b), issue his warrant for the apprehension of the person so charged, that he may be brought before such justice, judge, or magistrate, to the end that the evidence of criminality may be heard and considered. Such complaint may be filed before and such warrant may be issued by a judge or magistrate of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia if the whereabouts within the United States of the person charged are not known or, if there is reason to believe the person will shortly enter the United States. If, on such hearing, he deems the evidence sufficient to sustain the charge under the provisions of the proper treaty or convention, or under section 3181(b), he shall certify the same, together with a copy of all the testimony taken before him, to the Secretary of State, that a warrant may issue upon the requisition of the proper authorities of such foreign government, for the surrender of such person, according to the stipulations of the treaty or convention; and he shall issue his warrant for the commitment of the person so charged to the proper jail, there to remain until such surrender shall be made.
Absent the Mugabe complication, there would seem ample reason to extradite Palmer and there is currently a petition being signed by thousands of Americans asking for the Obama Administration to facilitate his arrest. However, here remains the questionable condition of the Zimbabwe courts and prison (which are considering some of the worst in the world).
Palmer, the professional hunter guide, and the owner of the land were all found by the government to be in violation of the country’s Parks and Wildlife Act. The cutting off of the radio collar would seem of particular importance in determining knowledge of the illegality of the hunt. Indeed, the government officials view the use of a bow and arrow as a way to concealing the hunt, though many American hunters value such hunts.
Palmer has continued to insist that he relied on the expertise of local guides “to ensure a legal hunt . . . I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.”