Anyone in the country they are in is subject to its laws and policy, regardless of nationality. While an American passport may not be a get out of jail free card, it does provide you certain rights under the circumstances that you face arrest in a foreign country.
Register and Notify
If you are arrested in another country, your consulate should immediately be made aware. Many countries do this already, but follow up with yours to be sure. While the state department cannot fight your legal battle for you, they can aid in connecting you with local attorneys once notified. In fact it is most wise to register with the embassy when you are about to visit a particular country.
Past President Clinton or Secretary of State John Kerry don’t always fly over to bail out Americans caught in tough situations in countries such as North Korea or Iran. The state department maintains an updated travel advisory online in which you can find what rights you might not have in certain nations. For example, Iran denies the US consulate access to American prisoners to see their conditions or communicate with them. Other countries sometimes delay or even arrest those who hold dual citizenship. While these examples are extreme, they offer valuable information to Americans traveling on the degree to which other nations respect rights abroad.
The US State Department’s consular officers made over 9,500 prison visits in the last year. If you are imprisoned, the State Department will make regular visits to make sure you are being provided proper facilities (i.e. food, water, a place to sleep) and your rights are being respected.
Know the System In Advance
Whether you’re visiting a country in Europe or Asia, know the legal system you are entering to at least some degree. For example, you might not know that in Italy juries consist of six citizens and two judges, and a simple majority is all that is needed for a guilty verdict (in contrast to a unanimous decision in the US). In other countries one is presumed guilty until proved innocent. Know what your rights are in a foreign legal system and have a plan of action if you were to be taken into custody. While the worst you might ever face is a speeding ticket abroad, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the worst.
Byline: Blair Carroll is a criminal defense attorney at Carroll Troberman Criminal Defense in Austin, Texas. The Austin criminal defense attorneys at the practice have experience trying cases ranging from DWI to white collar crime, and offer free consultations.