On December 19, 2013 the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that Edgar Benitez Hernandez, also known as “Shadow,” 25, of the District of San Miguel, El Salvador, was extradited from El Salvador to the United States on Wednesday, December 18, 2013.  Benitez Hernandez was previously indicted by an Eastern District of Virginia grand jury on June 13, 2010, on multiple racketeering charges, including attempted murder.

Benitez Hernandez, who was charged with multiple counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering as well as the discharge of a firearm during or in relation to a crime of violence, faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.  Benitez Hernandez, who made his initial appearance today in front of United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis, will next appear for arraignment in front of United States District Judge Claude M. Hilton within the next fourteen days.

According to the indictment, Benitez Hernandez, an alleged member of the notoriously violent transnational street gang Mara Salvatrucha 13 (“MS-13”), attempted to murder two individuals on September 13, 2008, in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Benitez Hernandez allegedly committed the double shooting to increase his position and stature within MS-13.  On May 22, 2013, Benitez Hernandez was apprehended, in El Salvador, by an elite Salvadoran investigative unit known as the Transnational Anti Gang (TAG) Task Force.  The TAG is composed of specially trained Salvadoran National Police investigators who work closely with the FBI on transnational investigations.  This extradition marks the first time in recent history that a Salvadoran citizen has been extradited to the United States to be held accountable for alleged gang activity committed in the United States.

Even though the United States and El Salvador entered into an extradition treaty on July 10, 1911, the first time a Salvadoran national was extradited to the United States was only in 2010 in a case involving sexual assault on a child.  And it was only in 2000 that El Salvador had amended its constitution to allow for the extradition of Salvadoran nationals.  Although it is unclear how El Salvador entered into an unconstitutional bilateral treaty with the United States in the first place, there seems to be a trend in which alleged criminals from El Salvador are being extradited to the United States.  For example, just last month the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico indicated that it is seeking the extradition of a recently arrested El Salvadoran fugitive involved in a 2009 murder.

If bilateral legal assistance between the United States and El Salvador continues to thaw, defendants subjected to extradition proceedings in El Salvador will need defense counsel with knowledge of the extradition process and its limitations.  The formal agreement between the United States and El Salvador enumerates the offenses that qualify for extradition.  Although racketeering does not appear in the agreement, attempted murder is listed.  However, there may still be procedural remedies available to the defendant if he was only provisionally arrested in El Salvador or if the offense was in any way considered a political offense.

This post is authored by Ferrari & Associates, P.C., a law firm specializing in federal criminal defense matters. Feel free to contact us at (202) 280-6370 or info@ferrariassociatespc.com.