Getting arrested would be horrible enough; getting arrested while traveling abroad would be a complete nightmare. However, thousands of Americans find themselves in this very situation every year, detained for everything from fist fights in Tijuana to drug trafficking in Thailand and espionage in Iran. Regardless of the destination, American citizens are subject to all local laws and procedures and can be subject to punishment whether breaking the law was intentional or not.
To explain what to do should we find ourselves in hot water abroad, we asked Los Angeles-based criminal law specialist, Mike Cavalluzzi his advice:
“Most people don’t go traveling with the intent to commit a crime. So my best advice is not to commit one,” Cavalluzzi explains. “But, bar crawls can turn into bar brawls quite easily and that can land you in jail."
"Before you go, do your homework and familiarize yourself with the laws as they apply to you and to LGBT people in general. They are different in every country. And, in some places, vary drastically from the U.S. If you add language and cultural factors to the mix, this can become a nightmare very quickly. A great resource for this information is the State Department website's 'Learn About Your Destination' page.
Always carry some form of photo I.D. that proves you are a U.S. citizen. If you are nervous about carrying your passport on you, bring your drivers license.
If you are arrested, state your travel status right away — are you there on business, to visit family, for political reasons? — and ask to have the American Consulate alerted.
Don’t make any kind of statement to law enforcement and don’t sign anything. This is not the time to try and use your shaky language skills. Remain silent until you are able to speak with someone at the U.S. Consulate.
The Consulate will not be able to get you out of jail nor can they offer you legal advice. However, they will monitor your situation and help you find an attorney who speaks English that can help you navigate the local legal system. If you are allowed to call the Consulate directly — or anyone for that matter — do not say anything incriminating on the phone. Assume someone is listening.
Find out from your lawyer if everything you discuss with them is privileged information. In other words, find out if the lawyer can be compelled to testify against you in court. Also, ask them how bail works and whether you will be expected to remain in the country until your trial or if you can return home."
Additional information from the State Department on their role can be found here. Contact information for all U.S. embassies can be found here.