Unexpected landings and arrest warrants
November 3, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe

If there was a warrant out for your arrest in a foreign country, would you still be arrested if you were on a plane that had a mechanical failure or something and had to land in the nearest airport, which happened to be in that country?

I'm thinking not everyone would have a visa to be in every country, so if a plane landed in a country unexpectedly they can't be at fault for not having the proper documents. Would that remain true for my question?
posted by Meathamper to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
I have no idea what a visa has to do with it. If an airplane lands in a country it is clearly in their jurisdiction. It is completely reasonable for them to find out who the occupants are. Finding out that there is someone for whom an arrest warrant has been issued and they know where the person is, I'd expect them to make the arrest.
posted by meinvt at 7:46 PM on November 3, 2011

If a jurisdiction has a warrant for your arrest, and you are in that jurisdiction for any reason, and they know you're there, then of course they can arrest you. There were some high profile arrests a few years ago when the owners of an online gambling site were flying from country A to country B and happened to stop over in the US en route, and the feds were tipped off.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:46 PM on November 3, 2011

I think you are confusing the immigration process with jurisdiction. You are right that airplanes can land in countries without people on board having a visa for that country, if the people aren't getting off the plane or if they are only there to transfer in the airport. But that doesn't mean those people aren't subject to the laws of that country.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:49 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had learnt that an airplane is technically within the jurisdiction of its "flag" country - this was in the context of heavily pregnant women trying to induce birth on, say, an Australian plane so the baby would be eligible for citizenship. Not sure if this is a universal rule, or whether it applies only when the plane is in international airspace, or even if the rule is still current, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:56 PM on November 3, 2011

That almost sounds like the plot of this movie.
posted by msali at 7:58 PM on November 3, 2011

I had learnt that an airplane is technically within the jurisdiction of its "flag" country ... Not sure if this is a universal rule, or whether it applies only when the plane is in international airspace, or even if the rule is still current, though.

In the case of the United States, the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States includes:

"Any aircraft belonging in whole or in part to the United States, or any citizen thereof, or to any corporation created by or under the laws of the United States, or any State, Territory, district, or possession thereof, while such aircraft is in flight over the high seas, or over any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and out of the jurisdiction of any particular State." 18 U.S.C. ยง 7(5).

Basically it's a default rule that comes into play when the plane is not within any country's normal jurisdiction. I imagine other countries have similar rules.
posted by jedicus at 8:06 PM on November 3, 2011

For the purposes of customs and immigration, people on planes (or ships or etc) transiting through a country aren't always considered to have entered the country. I don't know the details of this, but I think it's a pretty narrow exception for the purposes of travel stopovers (and it's presumably at the option of the host country), not a general principle that you're not "in" the host country if you're on a transiting craft.

This rather awful story suggests that while you're on the ground (but still in the aircraft) at a stopover you are in fact in the jurisdiction of the place you're physically in. The rule jedicus quotes describes the situation when the airplane isn't in any other jurisdiction.
posted by hattifattener at 8:31 PM on November 3, 2011

The American government has arrested a number of people flying from Central America to Europe when their plane landed in the US.
posted by atrazine at 8:42 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This depends heavily upon citizenship and the countries involved. Whether there's jurisdiction or not is less important than diplomatic influence. For example, even if a jurisdiction produced a warrant for the arrest of a former President of the United States, only a deeply hostile country would even consider arrest and even that would be a negotiation token rather than a true arrest. Meanwhile, a citizen of a third world country with a terrorism charge in the United States is going to be taken out of the plane whether there's jurisdiction or not.

You asked "would you", not "could you legally", and the result of that is much more practical than legal. Citizenship of a developed Western country benefits you, landing in a country of minimal diplomatic influence and peaceful foreign policy benefits you. Landing in a diplomatically hostile country or a very territorial country (US, UK, China, Iran) is a strike against you, as is citizenship of a less influential country or one which is not prone to supporting citizens.

Are you American? Is your flight staying away from North Korea, Iran, or Somalia? Is your warrant for something less severe than murder/espionage? You're probably safe. Are you from a small island nation? Are you a pro-Tibet activist landing in China? No court is going to save you. It's politics as much as it law, although most countries are not fond of treading on foreign property even if it is within their rights. If you're not deemed an actual risk to the country and haven't stolen obscene amounts, you're probably not going to be arrested over a few unpaid parking tickets and suspected shoplifting unless perhaps you're in North Korea.
posted by Saydur at 8:57 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

The rule jedicus quotes describes the situation when the airplane isn't in any other jurisdiction.

Yes, I should have made it clear that the law I quoted does not even apply to American planes that are flying within another country's airspace, much less ones that have landed.
posted by jedicus at 8:58 PM on November 3, 2011

It can even happen when you're not even landing in the country:

An Aeromexico flight from France to Mexico was diverted to Montreal, Canada, Sunday because a "person of interest" was on board, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman said.

Law enforcement officers removed the passenger from the flight after it landed at the Montreal airport, and arrested the individual on an outstanding warrant, TSA spokesman Sterling Payne said.

Ali Gaal was removed from an Aeromexico flight at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport Sunday afternoon after U.S. officials denied the flight entry into U.S. air space because they said a man on board was the subject of an outstanding warrant.

Canadian officials have said Ali Gaal's name appears on a U.S. no-fly list, a database of individuals not allowed to fly in the U.S. or though its air space, but American officials would not confirm that....

Passengers coming off the plane told The Associated Press that six Canadian police officers had boarded in Montreal, handcuffed the man and led him off the aircraft. They said the man did not resist.

if a plane landed in a country unexpectedly they can't be at fault for not having the proper documents

Don't confuse criminal law with immigration law. Immigration law grants (for lack of a better term) defendants very few of the rights that citizens or legal residents have in a judicial proceeding. That said, the presumed penalty for not having documents would generally be deportation. Arresting someone on a criminal warrant, however, falls under an entirely different area of the law, and activates things such as bilateral treaties and practical international law.
posted by dhartung at 11:30 PM on November 3, 2011

If I remember correctly, I remember in studying the Achille Lauro incident, that the terrorists on board the Egyptian commercial aircraft (that was diverted to Italy by the American military) refused to leave the aircraft and were technically under the jurisdiction of the Egyptian government, even while the plane was parked in Sicily. But I could be wrong. That was a huge clusterfuck.
posted by phaedon at 12:49 AM on November 4, 2011

A Canadian friend of mine, who is in his 50s, was once charged with possession of Marijuana when he was a young adult. A couple of years ago, while travelling from Canada to Australia, the plane had a stop-over in the U.S. Some U.S. officials came on-board, took him out of the plane and had him fly back to Canada as he was not allowed to the U.S. due to that incident that took place *in Canada* some 30 years before. An outstanding warrant would be much more serious I would think.
posted by aroberge at 4:14 AM on November 4, 2011

practical thought: in an unexpected and temporary landing the passengers might not go through immigration, so the chance of anyone realizing there's someone on board with an arrest warrant against him/her might not be too high).
posted by mirileh at 5:18 AM on November 4, 2011

On the other hand, with terrorism concerns, law enforcement is more likely to know who is on the aircraft.
posted by gjc at 6:53 AM on November 4, 2011

law enforcement is more likely to know who is on the aircraft

Indeed. One post-9/11 reform was that airlines, which formerly had little positive ID of their passengers and would often take days to verify them following accidents, now must confirm their manifests to the US even before just crossing our airspace. This has come up on multiple occasions -- in most cases without the arrest taking place, as the plane is simply denied access and has to turn back or divert.
posted by dhartung at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2011

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