Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Fugitive Definition:

One who runs away to avoid arrest, prosecution or imprisonment.

Related Terms: Extradition

One who is unlawfully at large; who hides or extracts himself from the reach of law enforcement officers to avoid arrest, prosecution or imprisonment.

In many jurisdictions, the term has been adjusted to fugitive from justice or fugitive criminal. In the United Kingdom:

"Fugitive criminal means ... any person accused or convicted of an extradition crime committed within the jurisdiction of any foreign state who is in or is suspected of being in some part of Her Majesty's dominions."1

Many extradition laws also call the suspect a fugitive although, in that context, it does not necessarily mean that the suspect was trying to hide in the country from which extradition is being sought.

Title 31A of the 2nd Edition of American Jurisprudence, Extradition, makes this proposition of law:

"To be a fugitive from justice within the meaning of the federal extradition statute, the accused need only be absent from the demanding state when when it seeks to have him answer for the  crime, and to be found within the jurisdiction of another state. It is not necessary to establish that the accused was indicted before leaving the state, that he fled in order to avoid prosecution, or that he even knew charges were pending against him. A party remains a fugitive until the charges which have been filed against him in the state from which he fled are dropped."

In the United States, for example, these words of the United States Supreme Court in Hyatt v. People:

"Undoubtedly, the act of Congress did not impose upon the executive authority of the Territory the duty of surrendering the appellant, unless it was made to appear, in some proper way, that he was a fugitive from justice. In other words, the appellant was entitled, under the act of Congress, to insist upon proof that he was within the demanding State at the time he is alleged to have committed the crime charged, and subsequently withdrew from her jurisdiction, so that he could not be reached by her criminal process."

In Appleyard v. Massachusetts, Justice Harlan of that same court:

"The simple inquiry must be whether the person whose surrender is demanded is in fact a fugitive from justice, not whether he consciously fled from justice in order to avoid prosecution for the crime with which he is charged by the demanding State. A person charged by indictment or by affidavit before a magistrate with the commission within a State of a crime covered by its laws, and who, after the date of the commission of such crime leaves the State — no matter for what purpose or with what motive, nor under what belief — becomes, from the time of such leaving, and within the meaning of the Constitution and the laws of the United States, a fugitive from justice, and if found in another State must be delivered up by the Governor of such State to the State whose laws are alleged to have been violated, on the production of such indictment or affidavit, certified as authentic by the Governor of the State from which the accused departed."


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