State Department Reply to Joseph Freitas, December 16, 1977

[Editor’s note: The State Department wrote similar letters to at least three congressmen – Reps. Phillip Burton,  Robert Duncan, and Don Edwards (and likely to Leo Ryan) – who had expressed interest in the Stoen custody case.]

[Department of State letterhead]

December 16, 1977

Joseph Freitas, Jr., Esquire
District Attorney
880 Bryant Street
San Francisco, California 94103

Dear Mr. Freitas;

The President has asked that I reply to your letter of November 25 concerning the child custody case of John Victor Stoen who is presently in the custody of a religious group known as The People’s Temple, in Guyana.

We note that that John Stoen’s mother previously signed over custody of John to the religious group. The Department has met personally with the two California attorneys engaged by Mrs. Stoen to assist her in this case. They have been given advice concerning the handling of a child custody court hearing in a foreign country. They have also been advised that the American Embassy in Guyana is prepared to offer all possible assistance to themselves and to Mrs. Stoen’s Guyanese attorney if such assistance is required during the hearings scheduled in Guyana this month.

As you are no doubt aware, neither the Department of State nor the Superior Court for the State of California has the authority to enforce the order of November 18 regarding the custody of John Victor Stoen in the country of Guyana. Under many foreign laws there are provisions for proving foreign judgments, although, unfortunately custody orders are usually excluded from this procedure. Child custody orders issued in the United States are normally not accepted for enforcement in another country on the basis of comity. The question of John Victor Stoen’s custody will almost certainly be decided by the Guyanese court, after hearing all relevant evidence, on the basis of Guyanese law. The California court order undoubtedly will be given evidentiary weight in the custody hearing, although by no means will it be binding on that court.


A copy of this correspondence is being forwarded to the American consul in Georgetown for his information. I trust that this will be helpful to you. Further information regarding child custody may be obtained from Miss Elizabeth Powers of this office on 202-622-3015.

Sincerely yours,
Alan A. Gise
Director Office of
Special Consular Services

Originally posted on June 16th, 2020.

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