An American hit-and-run driver who was finally found in Israel last year, after fleeing Florida over a decade ago, may not be extraditable because Florida does not allow its prisoners to receive kosher food.
Jerusalem District Court Judge Ben-Tzion Greenberger on Sunday ruled that Lawrence Seth Wayne, who had been sentenced by a Florida court to 19 years in prison for the 1998 road accident, could not be extradited to a state that would violate his right to practice his religion.
Greenberger thus accepted Wayne's argument that sending him back to Florida would violate Israel's Extradition Law, which forbids extradition to a foreign country if this is liable to "harm public policy or a crucial interest of the State of Israel."
If he was not assured kosher food, extraditing Wayne would constitute "a serious violation of his most basic rights to freedom of religion and worship," Greenberger said.
He could only be extradited if Florida provided him with kosher food in prison, or allowed him to serve out his sentence in one of the 35 U.S. states that do provide its prisoners with kosher food, Greenberger said.
Florida has refused to allow Wayne to receive kosher food in prison even if he pays for it privately, and insists he must begin serving his sentence in Florida while awaiting the proceedings to transfer him to another state.
In February 1998, Wayne, a twice-convicted drunk driver, was again driving drunk when he slammed into Donald Cantwell's pickup truck in Delray Beach, mortally injuring him. Wayne fled the scene but was apprehended by police. Cantwell died two days later.
Wayne was convicted of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to 19 years, but was let out on $50,000 bond while he appealed the case. He lost the appeal and fled the country before he could be brought to prison.
He entered Israel in 2000 using a forged passport and an assumed name. He was located and arrested last year after a decade-long manhunt conducted by the FBI that was finally concluded with the help of the Israel Police.
Apparently Greenberger did not attempt to ascertain whether Wayne, who has married and started a family here, is actually religious or whether he was trying to use the kosher food problem as an excuse to avoid extradition.
His attorney, Eric Bukatman of the Public Defender's Office, said on Monday he didn't know how long Wayne had been observant. Since taking on the case last year, he has always seen Wayne wearing a knitted kippa and the matter was not raised in court, he said.
The Supreme Court in several instances has recognized the right of those being extradited to be able to observe religious tenets - including kosher food, prayers and the right to wear a kippa - in the requesting country.
Two years ago, for example, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein conditioned the extradition of a suspect to Ukraine on his receiving kosher food, even though the suspect wasn't Jewish, because only his father was Jewish. The Ukrainian authorities complied.
In the past Florida had an arrangement for supplying kosher food to prisoners, but canceled it, even though it recognized that this would violate some prisoners' rights.
When this was challenged in a federal court, the court accepted the state's arguments that the inconvenience to individual prisoners was reasonable when balanced against the expense providing kosher food entailed. The court also cited the risk of disorder that could occur in a prison when some prisoners are seen receiving special food that might be better than what the others receive.
Greenberger said he had examined the rulings of the Supreme Court in similar cases and "could not find a single case in which it was declared so unequivocally that the fugitive would not receive kosher food if extradited to the United States."
But the case is not necessarily closed. "The country requesting [Wayne's] extradition is not the state of Florida, but the United States of America," Greenberger noted. "It is in its power to provide a simple and fitting solution to his legitimate need for kosher food, if not in Florida, then in one of the 35 states, or in the federal system, where kosher food is provided to kosher-observant prisoners."
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