Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Using MLATs in State Court Cultural Property Prosecutions

Many more receiving stolen property cases are handled in state courts rather than federal courts. Whether the cases involve illegally possessed, transported, or sold jewelry, cars, computers, or other stolen objects, these criminal matters are routinely heard by state, county, and local judges applying state law. That is why prosecutors should be familiar with their state's laws that can target those who receive stolen cultural property originating from foreign nations.

All fifty states have receiving stolen property laws on the books. In about about 1/4 of the states--including art market rich New York--there are even statutes that presume criminal knowledge in cases involving dealers. New York Penal Law 165.55 states: "[A] person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it."

But how do state authorities build effective cultural property criminal cases in situations where evidence may be located overseas? That is where Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) may help.

Prosecutors were reminded about MLATs last week during a conference titled "Current Challenges and Strategies in the Fight against Transnational Crime," sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General and the International Association of Prosecutors.

In a world of more extensive shipping, communications, and travel, MLATs give law enforcement authorities greater ability to gather critical information across international borders.

MLATs specifically allow prosecutors to call on foreign assistance to help them examine objects and sites, locate or identify persons of interest, serve documents, take witness statements, and execute requests for searches and seizures.

Because taking down contraband traffickers depends on the old rule of "following the money," MLATs may be the right tool needed to identify overseas criminal money pipelines. Indeed, MLATs have been used successfully to acquire financial and banking records legally from treaty partners.

Negotiated by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), MLATs are currently in force between the U.S. and many cultural property source nations and transhipment nations. These include Belize, Canada, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, and others.

State, county, and local prosecutors who utilize MLATs rely on the DoJ's Office of International Affairs for guidance. That office has regional specialists on staff who work to assist prosecutors at all levels of the American criminal justice system.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2010-2013 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: