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This question is just another attempt at the idea in Using international waters to avoid legal punishment. I have someone in a story that wants to commit a pre-meditated crime that others will know he performed, but avoid being legally punishable for it by exploiting nation boundaries.

This time I want to use a micronation like Molossia to commit the crime. Say I'm a US citizen that travels to Molossia (or some other micronation within the US) and commits a crime. I then return to my home in the US and freely admit to the crime. Can I avoid prosecution under the grounds that I was technically not within the US at the time of the crime?

For the sake of this story let's say that the owner of the micronation is willing to support, or at least ignore, the crime performed within their borders. The perpetrator of the crime admits to the crime, possibly even flaunting it in such a way that the public is aware of it and wants to see the culprit punished. Assume the crime is not quite as severe as murder, but is non-trivial; ie it's drawn enough attention and anger that the US definitely wants to prosecute, but not enough to do anything politically extreme to peruse justice.

I have two questions. First, what are the official legal rights of the US purely by the books to prosecute this person for the crime?

Second, assuming that the US doesn't have explicit legal rights to arrest the person for the crime, what could the US do to punish them anyway? For instance if the crime was murder the US could likely arrest the culprit for premeditating murder, but not for performing murder, since the planning of the murder was done within the US even if the murder was not. Are there other legal loop holes or exploits that could be used for non-murder?

Would a government simply stop recognizing a micronation over something that upset enough citizens, seeing as how most micronations only exist because the government shrugged and say "meh, whatever" to their technical existence via some legal loophole or similar nonsense. I assume if a micronation ever annoyed a government enough the government would just say "you know what, were not humoring you any more" and wouldn't face much political backfire for it. If this is a realistic risk, generally how far could one push the government before they go with the "you're no longer a micronation" response.

For the sake of this question assume this is a one time event and the micronation is not housing a "prosecution-free crime tourism" resort or something.

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    $\begingroup$ Molossia isn't legally a country, it's part of the US, so you'd be screwed in that specific example. $\endgroup$ – user5083 May 29 '15 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ The Vatican and Monaco are the best examples I can think of. I don't know a whole lot about this topic myself, though. $\endgroup$ – user5083 May 29 '15 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't you be asking a lawyer this question? $\endgroup$ – Aify May 29 '15 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ If being in international waters allows crime, the good guys can just shoot up his boat without a problem next time they run into him. Good for the goose, good for the gander. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat May 29 '15 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're confusing what counts as "recognition" here. Micronations go unrecognised by most countries by definition. Simply not bothering to send in police to break up people's fun for no reason isn't "recognition" on any level. The US government doesn't humour micronations; it ignores their existence completely. There is no legal loophole. (NB places like Liechtenstein and Monaco are not micronations, they're just small. They operate like any other country.) $\endgroup$ – Leushenko May 29 '15 at 20:58
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It depends on the crime.

A micronation within the US, if one were to ever be recognized, would likely need excellent relations with the US and wouldn't allow you to do anything to piss off Uncle Sam. If they were cool with it before, the US would likely pressure them into not being cool with it.

Otherwise, it would be similar to any foreign nation. There are some crimes the US will punish you for no matter where they happened, like sexual acts with a minor.

If you check out the Wikipedia page on jurisdiction of federal courts you'll see that:

Federal courts also have jurisdiction to hear cases brought against U.S. citizens based on their illegal activities in other countries.

So you can, and likely will, be tried for any crimes (but most likely the really bad crimes) you commit outside the US and then brag about when you come back.

You may also just consider "the terrorists". Citizens of foreign countries who the US suspects will commit a crime against the US... or its allies... or economic partners... or whomever. Clearly the US does not care about details of citizenship or geographic locale. They are exercising their extraterritorial jurisdiction. The US is, in fact, probably the worst place to be affiliated with for committing crimes. The US often acts as the World Police.

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  • $\begingroup$ Totally agree. The US is the worst place for this. Some dictatorships might act the same, but they'd probably be breaking their own laws doing so. The US by contrast has been fairly consistent for few centuries rejecting any restriction on its sovereignty by foreign jurisdictions. Probably have something to do with that rebellion against the legal British government. Not familiar enough with American history to know. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 29 '15 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ They will also have jurisdiction against people that killed their own citizens. Not sure what would happen if an Australian killed a Japanese in Molossia and is now residing in the US. $\endgroup$ – Ángel May 29 '15 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Ángel The US would probably extradite them to Australia (or Japan if Australia was cool with it). $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 29 '15 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that require that Australia requested its extradition first? Or do you mean that they will get expelled? $\endgroup$ – Ángel May 29 '15 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Ángel Deported, expelled, extradited, or whatever the term/action, the US would most likely do something about it, if it took place inside a micronation within the US. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 29 '15 at 20:31
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You need to define what you are talking about. What is a "micronation within the US"? Is it a sovereign nation or not?

If Molossia is not sovereign, it is not technically a nation, micro- or otherwise. Your characterization of the head of Molossia as "the owner" suggests that Molossia is not, in fact, a nation. If it were, he would be the ruler, not the owner. Apparently you are talking about a community which calls itself a micro-nation, and has not made a sufficient nuisance of itself to get slapped down. Yet. Such a situation would not persist for more than a few years. Its inhabitants would, of course, pay no taxes to the US, and that alone would bring things to a head in a fairly short time, with the US government taking the position that Molossia is, in fact, a cover for a criminal conspiracy. At that point, things start escalating, and unless the owner of Molossia has been investing heavily in nuclear weapons, it won't end well for Molossia. Force is the coin of sovreignity, and (in the US at least) secession has been off the table since The Late Unpleasantness (1861 - 1865)

If Molossia is, in fact, a sovereign nation, then what happens within its borders is (with a few exceptions as noted in other answers) the business of Molossia. So the question would be, does the Molossian judicial system care about the crime you committed, and do they have an extradition treaty with the US? If the answer to both is yes, then in general you are out of luck. After the Molossians invoke the treaty and demonstrate that they actually have a case against you, you will be arrested and turned over to them. No treaty, no extradition. If the Molossian government is down with your crime, there is not much that will happen to you.

There are a few exceptions to this. Recently, a number of nations have rejected extradition requests from the US on the grounds that they are unwilling to have their citizens subjected to capital punishment (the requests were for capital cases).

As a more extreme alternative, if your crime (although not murder) was sufficiently abhorrent to US sensibilities, it might constitute the straw that broke the camel's back, and provide a casus belli. No more Molossia, and you'd arguably wind up getting charged with something. Actually, with Molossia's existence legally moot, the crime victim would be an American citizen and you would be prosecuted under the relevant state or Federal statute. Although unlikely, it's possible in principle, and it's unlikely any sane micro-nation would refuse to start proceedings against you under the threat of obliteration.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like the phrase "The Late Unpleasantness"... it sounds very British, as if we were still The Colonies =) $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion May 30 '15 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ Molossia is a real place, but I would hardly call it sovereign. It is (so far as I can tell) both unrecognized by the US and incapable of plausibly defending itself against the same. It is also ~40 sq. m., which is probably small enough that Uncle Sam doesn't give a hoot as long as they get their taxes ("foreign aid"). $\endgroup$ – Kevin Feb 2 '16 at 5:58
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In my opinion, using a micronation for this is unlikely to succeed. Micronations are generally unrecognized (unlike microstates such as the Vatican). With neither diplomatic recognition nor the ability to defend its own borders, a supposed nation is de facto nonexistent. The court system would be unlikely to seriously consider the argument, let alone accept it.

I would recommend you use something like an embassy instead. Embassies have diplomatic immunity, which can apply to things such as murder. The immunity extends to the entire building, which is why it's not uncommon for political dissidents (and others) to take refuge within them, even if they are not themselves diplomats. The home country can waive this immunity, but they are never obligated to do so. Formally, the land still belongs to the host country, which can sever diplomatic ties outright (shuttering the embassy entirely), but that's a rather extreme measure in most circumstances.

While we're on the subject, if a member of a diplomatic mission commits a serious crime, there are 3 likely outcomes:

  1. The diplomat's home country waives the diplomat's immunity, allowing the host country to prosecute.
  2. The diplomat's home country recalls the diplomat and (usually) prosecutes them.
  3. The host country declares the diplomat persona non grata, which is similar in effect to deportation. Unlike deportation, it typically does not involve a hearing or any other formal process beyond the host country serving notice on the diplomatic mission.

(3) is usually avoided in favor of (1) or (2), because it is symptomatic of a serious diplomatic rift. It suggests the home country approves of the crime, since they did not act against it. The PNG action may also be taken as an insult to the diplomat's home country ("If you don't approve of our representative, that means you don't approve of us").

On the other hand, PNG is just deportation. The host country cannot create any negative consequences for a diplomat other than sending them back to their home country. If you are trying to have someone commit a crime and get away with it, this is probably the most legally plausible way to do it. However, in this situation, the diplomat would not be allowed back into the host country.

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  • $\begingroup$ a good point. I had already considered the embassy option as the most plausible. I was simply playing with other options. Still, you did provide some details about the embassy option I had not known yet, so I appreciate your answer. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 1 '15 at 14:53
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Murder isn't going to work. Regardless of where you have performed the crime, you are still likely performing the crime against a citizen of the country in question, which they can still get you for. This largely applies to anything where a citizen of the non-micro nation is a clear victim of the crime. You can probably get away with things like gambling or drug use, though.

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My short answer:

I believe this scenario would fall under the "Convention of the High Seas" (1959) Articles 14 - 21 which discuss Piracy. Piracy is typically an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea as described very well here on this Wiki page. The term "criminal violence..." (e.g.. murder) stands on its own merits and therefore gives justification for a maritime force like the US Coast Guard the right to intervene.

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