Integrity Legal

14th September 2010

When Americans are arrested abroad it is a serious issue. Many nations do not have the same legal procedures as the United States. Therefore, the protocols under which an American is tried for a criminal offense abroad can be very different from the rules for charging and prosecuting an individual with a crime in the USA. Fortunately, the American State Department provides assistance to those US Citizens who have been arrested and/or incarcerated overseas. The following is quoted directly from the US State Department website:

DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF SERVICES PROVIDED TO U.S. CITIZENS ARRESTED ABROAD BY U.S. CONSULAR OFFICERS. SINCE CONDITIONS VARY FROM COUNTRY TO COUNTRY, THE PRECISE NATURE OF SERVICES MAY VARY LIKEWISE, DEPENDING ON INDIVIDUAL CIRCUMSTANCES IN A PARTICULAR CASE.

SUMMARY: One of the most essential tasks of the Department of State and of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad. The State Department is committed to ensuring fair and humane treatment for American citizens imprisoned overseas. We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority, in accordance with international law. We can and do monitor conditions in foreign prisons and immediately protest allegations of abuse against American prisoners. We work with prison officials to ensure treatment consistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights and to ensure that Americans are afforded due process under local laws.

There is little doubt that American Consular Officers provide a tremendous amount of assistance to American Citizens imprisoned or arrested abroad. However, it should be reiterated that Americans traveling abroad may not be subject to familiar laws and regulations. Therefore, prior research of a given nation’s legal system may provide the intending traveler with some insight into the legal system of the country or countries where they may be staying while outside of the USA. To quote the aforementioned website further:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country”s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. As our Country Specific Information explain, penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, fined, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. If arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, possibly convicted and sentenced, and for any appeals process. Within this framework, U.S. consular officers provide a wide variety of services to U.S. citizens arrested abroad and their families.

There are a number of services that US Consular Officers can provide, but there are a significant number of areas where US government personnel cannot provide assistance as it may be prohibited by law. To again quote the DOS website:

A consular officer cannot :

- demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen arrested abroad or otherwise cause the citizen to be released.

- represent a U.S. citizen at trial, give legal advice or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.

These disclaimers are important to note as many Americans are under the mistaken impression that American Consular Officers are meant to act in a representative capacity with respect to pending criminal charges overseas. This is simply not the case. Therefore, those arrested and/or incarcerated in a foreign country are well advised to contact either a foreign attorney or an American attorney abroad in an attempt to gain insight into one’s options with regard to pending foreign criminal charges. Furthermore, depending upon the country, it may be possible for an American Citizen to arrange for bail. This at least allows the American to be released while awaiting an adjudication on the merits of a pending case.

The issue of foreign criminal charges should not be confused with the issue of pending American criminal charges or a pending arrest warrant. If one has a pending warrant from the United States, then it may be necessary to contact an American attorney in order to ascertain one’s options with regard to both the warrant as well as the underlying case in order to make informed decisions about resolving the matter in a legally acceptable manner.

For related information please see: Warrant For My Arrest.


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