Why Do Criminals Flee to Mexico?

It’s a national headline: the “affluenza teen” is on the run with his mom. Sentenced to probation after killing four people in a drunk driver accident at age 16 in Texas, Ethan Couch faced no jail time, sentenced to probation. His get out of jail free card? He suffered from “affluenza”, being spoiled by a wealthy family and never hearing “no”. It was controversial and hurtful to victim’s families, who say they aren’t surprised he think he’s above the law at this point.

With money, connections, and a head start the sheriff admits it’s a possibility the Couch clan fled the country. While people of their status most likely picked a further location, most convicts on the run choose Mexico, especially those of neighboring states like Texas, Arizona, and Southern California.

Deemed a safe haven in criminal handbooks, Mexico is the convict’s bald eagle. However, fleeing is the worst criminal act they’ll commit, soaring above the crime they’re running from. Mexico does not equal freedom; in fact, they’ll send you right back when you’re caught.

Mexico and the U.S. signed an extradition treaty in 1978, and it’s enforced. More than 2,000 criminals were captured in Mexico and returned to the U.S. for persecution between 2003 and 2011. Mexico is actively extraditing their own citizens and local criminals so they’ll serve harsher punishments. In September 2015, 13 Mexicans including two cartel bosses made their way to U.S. courtrooms facing several felony drug charges. Even the famed El Chapo will be extradited to the U.S., an agreement reached by the two countries after his notorious prison escape.

But this is all only if you get caught, right? Most runaways have to live near the border- they look less suspicious in tourist areas, there’s more English speakers, more under the table jobs. There’s also more cops, border control (lets not forget working for a corrupt system), and perhaps the riskiest factor, more technology.

“Even if you make it across the border, intel gathered from border control could tip off US Marshals,” Riverside criminal defense attorney Graham Donath said. “And, if you do manage to get hundreds of miles into Mexico, a simple tweet or email back to the states could give you away.”

And that’s far from an exaggeration. Wanda Podgurski was on trial for insurance fraud when she fled- but not without a cell phone. Creating a Twitter account, she taunted police officers tweeting “catch me if you can” and “help find me before I con anyone else.” Police complied; they tracked her down and captured her in Mexico on Independence Day. While officers never confirmed exactly how they traced her steps, Mrs. Podgurski obviously wasn’t up-to-date on the power of an IP address (or the extradition treaty if I had to guess).

Even if you’re intelligent enough to realize criminals and tweet confessions don’t mix, the most challenging part for most criminals, presumably, is becoming a lone wolf while missing loved ones. Sure, you’ve seen criminals make friends and fall in love in Mexico on “I (Almost) Got Away With It”, but the title tells you how that ends. Become too open or comfortable- get caught. Make one too many phone calls to family- caught. Mix up parts of your story once- caught.

“You can never come back to the U.S. again,” Mr.Donath said. “And you may face prosecution under some other country’s laws, which may be twice as hard as serving in the U.S.”

Mr. Donath is referring to countries with no extradition treaties with the U.S., somewhere the Couch’s may be on the run too. He aggressively warns against the accused running, as he defends many wealthy clients as a Riverside embezzlement attorney.

“Committing a crime usually isn’t that black and white,” Donath said. “You still have rights, and there may be evidence to exonerate you from some of the charges or to help reduce the sentencing you face.”

Of course a defense attorney like Donath is only a viable option if you don’t flee. It’s a steep downhill run the first step you take running away from police in an alley, it’s game over the second you hop borders. The Texas Sheriff Department plans to prosecute Couch and his mom to the fullest extent when they are found, no exceptions, and money may not set them free their second time around.

So back to the beginning, why do criminals flee to Mexico- desperation, fear, to enjoy freedom as long as they can? Each person probably has their own logic, flawed as it may be.