Rule 26.1 Foreign Law Determination

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A party intending to raise an issue of foreign law must provide the court and all parties with reasonable written notice. Issues of foreign law are questions of law, but in deciding such issues a court may consider any relevant material or source—including testimony—without regard to the Federal Rules of Evidence.


(Added Feb. 28, 1966, eff. July 1, 1966; amended Nov. 20, 1972, eff. July 1, 1975; Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1966

The original Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure did not contain a provision explicitly regulating the determination of foreign law. The resolution of issues of foreign law, when relevant in federal criminal proceedings, falls within the general compass of Rule 26 which provides for application of “the [evidentiary] principles of the common law as they may be interpreted by the courts of the United States in the light of reason and experience.” See Green, Preliminary Report on the Advisability and Feasibility of Developing Uniform Rules of Evidence for the United States District Courts 6–7, 17–18 (1962). Although traditional “commonlaw” methods for determining foreign-country law have proved inadequate, the courts have not developed more appropriate practices on the basis of this flexible rule. Cf. Green, op. cit. supra at 26–28. On the inadequacy of common-law procedures for determining foreign law, see, e.g., Nussbaum, Proving the Law of Foreign Countries, 3 Am.J.Comp.L. 60 (1954).

Problems of foreign law that must be resolved in accordance with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are most likely to arise in places such as Washington, D.C., the Canal Zone, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, where the federal courts have general criminal jurisdiction. However, issues of foreign law may also arise in criminal proceedings commenced in other federal districts. For example, in an extradition proceeding, reasonable ground to believe that the person sought to be extradited is charged with, or was convicted of, a crime under the laws of the demanding state must generally be shown. See Factor v. Laubenheimer, 290 U.S. 276 (1933); Fernandez v. Phillips, 268 U.S. 311 (1925); Bishop International Law: Cases and Materials (2d ed. 1962). Further, foreign law may be invoked to justify non-compliance with a subpoena duces tecum, Application of Chase Manhattan Bank, 297 F.2d 611 (2d Cir. 1962), and under certain circumstances, as a defense to prosecution. Cf. American Banana Co. v. United Fruit Co., 213 U.S. 347 (1909). The content of foreign law may also be relevant in proceedings arising under 18 U.S.C. §§1201, 2312–2317.

Rule 26.1 is substantially the same as Civil Rule 44.1. A full explanation of the merits and practicability of the rule appear in the Advisory Committee's Note to Civil Rule 44.1. It is necessary here to add only one comment to the explanations there made. The second sentence of the rule frees the court from the restraints of the ordinary rules of evidence in determining foreign law. This freedom, made necessary by the peculiar nature of the issue of foreign law, should not constitute an unconstitutional deprivation of the defendant's rights to confrontation of witnesses. The issue is essentially one of law rather than of fact. Furthermore, the cases have held that the Sixth Amendment does not serve as a rigid barrier against the development of reasonable and necessary exceptions to the hearsay rule. See Kay v. United States, 255 F.2d 476, 480 (4th Cir. 1958), cert. den., 358 U.S. 825 (1958); Matthews v. United States, 217 F.2d 409, 418 (5th Cir. 1954); United States v. Leathers, 135 F.2d 507 (2d Cir. 1943); and cf., Painter v. Texas, 85 S.Ct. 1065 (1965); Douglas v. Alabama, 85 S.Ct. 1074 (1965).

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1972 Amendment

Since the purpose is to free the judge, in determining foreign law, from restrictive evidentiary rules, the reference is made to the Rules of Evidence generally.

Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment

The language of Rule 26.1 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only.

References in Text

The Federal Rules of Evidence, referred to in text, are set out in the Appendix to Title 28, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.

Effective Date of Amendment Proposed November 20, 1972

Amendment of this rule embraced by the order entered by the Supreme Court of the United States on November 20, 1972, effective on the 180th day beginning after January 2, 1975, see section 3 of Pub. L. 93–595, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1959, set out as a note under section 2074 of Title 28, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.