The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity

by Roger Alford

The case of Diallo v. Maryland presents a tragic story of a diplomat father and his prodigal son.

In October 2006, David Reeves left a party in suburban Baltimore looking for drugs. He approached Abdel Diallo and asked if he had drugs for sale. Diallo said no. Reeves became angry and aggressive, and a struggle ensued. Both Diallo and Reeves were shot, Diallo in the chest and Reeves in the neck. After an investigation and trial, Diallo was found guilty of first-degree assault and the use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime.

Hama Diallo, Abdel Diallo’s father, was the Executive Secretary of the Permanent Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In this capacity he held the level of Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, entitling him to diplomatic immunity. Hama Diallo lived and worked in Bonn, Germany, but regularly came to the United States on official business, particularly in efforts to secure ratification of the UNCCD and to perform other responsibilities at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

At the time of Abdel Diallo’s arrest in October 2006, his father was not on official business in the United States, but he did have a G-4 visa to enter the United States as a foreign diplomat on official business from April 20, 2006 to April 18, 2007. The question presented was whether Abdel Diallo enjoyed immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The Maryland state appellate court held that he did not.

Appellant was arrested on October 31, 2006. Although appellant’s father possessed a general G-4 visa to enter the United States from April 20, 2006 to April 18, 2007, appellant presented no evidence to the trial court that would establish that appellant’s father was actually on official travel to the United States at the time of his arrest. We disagree with any implied ruling by the trial court that the Elder Diallo’s travel to the United States would no longer be “official” once the United States ratified the UNCCD, for the obvious reason that, as the former Executive Secretary of the Permanent Secretariat of the UNCCD, the Elder Diallo may have been required to travel to United Nations Headquarters to carry out his general responsibilities, notwithstanding this country’s ratification of the UNCCD. Nonetheless, we hold that the trial court properly ruled that appellant had not sustained his burden of proving that he was entitled to diplomatic status on the date of his arrest. The failure to establish that the Elder Diallo enjoyed diplomatic immunity at the relevant point in time, when considered in conjunction with the State Department’s certification that appellant lacked such immunity, formed a sufficient evidentiary basis for the trial court’s legal conclusion that the motion to dismiss, on grounds of diplomatic immunity, was not meritorious. We affirm.

So the moral to the story is that as soon as his wayward son was shot on October 22 and recovering in Johns Hopkins Hospital, Hama Diallo should have jumped on the first flight from Frankfurt to Washington, had breakfast with a United Nations colleague and talk about the desert, and then nursed his son back to health. The police could have tried to arrest him the following week, but Diallo would have been free from arrest or prosecution while his father was on official business in the United States. His father could then escort his son home to Germany without the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Instead, Abdel Diallo is serving a twenty-five year sentence in a Maryland penitentiary. “Oh Absalom, my son, my son!

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/07/08/the-limits-of-diplomatic-immunity/

4 Responses

  1. That’s the lawyer’s “moral” of the story.   :-)

    The moral of the story is: be a better father to your son.  Given that —  the facts of the underlying crime sound odd to me.  I’d love to see the full police report and confession.  Drug deal or armed robbery? 

  2. How utterly surprising that his son’s job was…working for his dad.

    I’m in the US on a g-4 visa at the moment, but I would certainly not be accorded any privileges or immunities if I shot someone, and I can’t comprehend how a lobbyist/odd-jobs-for-daddyist should be.

    That said, I am aware that I am not addressing any legal question, but normatively I think this was the right answer.

  3. What a terrible decision.  It seems that the State Department made a mistake (“he’s not in our database – and our database controls”) and the trial court made a completely inappropriate determination as to whether the father was on offical business – and the appeals court spends 65 pages avoiding the real question.

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