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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 03:47 GMT
Mexico alters extradition rules
Benjamin Arellano Felix
Arellano Felix is among those who now face extradition
Mexico's Supreme Court has struck down a constitutional provision banning life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

The ruling means Mexico will be able to extradite wanted criminals to places in the United States where they face life without parole in jail.

However, a ban will remain in force in cases where US states could apply the death penalty.

Correspondents say the decision also means that Mexico could itself introduce life imprisonment.

For the past four years, extraditions have been banned in any cases where the criminal faced a life sentence in a US jail without the possibility of parole.

Since the ban was imposed, a number of notorious criminals have avoided being sent to the US in murder or drug-smuggling cases.

Now the Supreme Court judges have voted by a margin of 6-5 to remove the ban, although it remains in place for death penalty cases.

The ruling increases the chances of drug smuggling suspects like Benjamin Arellano Felix, alleged head of a Tijuana-based cocaine cartel, being sent to the US.

The extradition rules will apply to all suspects, including US citizens who flee to Mexico after committing crimes north of the border.

Life sentences are very rare in Mexico, which has no death penalty.

But the Supreme Court also ruled constitutional a modification of the penal code in Chihuahua state to allow for life sentences in murder and kidnapping cases.

Other Mexican states could now follow Chihuahua's example.

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