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As Chief Justice Rehnquist stated, "The issue in this case is whether a criminal defendant, abducted to the United States from a nation with which it has an extradition treaty, thereby acquires a defense to the jurisdiction of this country's courts." Respondent, Humberto Alvarez- Machain, was indicted for his involvement in the murder of a United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") agent. Respondent moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming first that his abduction constituted outrageous governmental conduct, and second, that he was abducted in violation of the Extradition Treaty between the United States and Mexico ("Treaty"). The district court, after rejecting the outrageous conduct claim, nonetheless held that it lacked jurisdiction to try respondent because his abduction violated the Treaty.

Relying on its earlier decision in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of the indictment. Because the United States had authorized the abduction, and Mexico had officially protested the conduct, the intermediate court held that the purpose of the Treaty-to facilitate cooperative extraditions-had been violated.