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McKnight v. Torres

April 20, 2009

AARON CAIN MCKNIGHT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ADAM N. TORRES, U.S. MARSHAL, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Christina A. Snyder, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 2:07-cv-05541.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hawkins, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted March 10, 2009 -- Pasadena, California

Before: Michael Daly Hawkins, Marsha S. Berzon and Richard R. Clifton, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

In this international extradition case, Aaron Cain McKnight ("McKnight") appeals the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2241 habeas corpus petition, arguing the government violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in his immunity agreement with the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California (the "U.S. Attorney"). According to McKnight, he "reasonably expected" the government, having granted immunity from use of his incriminating admissions against him in any United States prosecution, would not disseminate his admissions to any foreign jurisdictions for prosecution abroad. Concluding the government's actions did not violate the immunity agreement, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

A federal grand jury issued an indictment charging fourteen individuals, including McKnight, with various offenses related to the importation of an illicit substance commonly known as Ecstasy from France into the United States. Shortly after the indictment, McKnight agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney in exchange for "direct use immunity" against use of any statements he made in a prosecution against him by the U.S. Attorney.

Prior to McKnight's proffer session, he and the U.S. Attorney executed a written agreement in which he agreed to answer questions "truthfully and completely" in exchange for the government's promise "not to offer in evidence in its case-in-chief or for the purpose of any sentencing hearing, any statements made by [McKnight] at the meeting" in either "the above-captioned case [or] in any other prosecution that may be brought against [McKnight] by this Office." McKnight made incriminating statements during the proffer session regarding his recruitment of young American women to import Ecstasy into the United States.

The government made no use of McKnight's proffer statements in his criminal trial, which resulted in a hung jury. The grand jury subsequently issued a superseding indictment, pursuant to which McKnight pled guilty to seven counts and was sentenced to 100 months in prison.

Around the same time, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris issued a judgment following trial in abstentia, convicting and sentencing McKnight of various crimes related to his Ecstasy trafficking. Among the evidence used in the French prosecution was an "investigation report concerning the deposition" of McKnight by United States authorities. The "deposition" was, in fact, McKnight's proffer statement to the U.S. Attorney. On the same day he was sentenced in the United States court, McKnight was taken into custody pursuant to a provisional extradition arrest warrant, issued at the request of the French government under the Extradition Treaty.

B. Procedural Background

The United States government thereafter filed an extradition complaint on behalf of France. McKnight responded to the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the government had breached its immunity agreement by sharing his incriminating admissions with the French government. The magistrate judge rejected the argument, concluding that the language of the immunity agreement was not ambiguous- "[i]t means exactly what it says"-and by its "express terms" immunized "McKnight's statements only from being offered in evidence in the government's case-in-chief or for sentencing purposes." Because the French prosecution "was not brought by the [U.S. Attorney]," and was instead "brought by the Republic of France in its capacity as sovereign," the immunity ...


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