Arrested in Aruba (or Anywhere): 1st Steps to Gaining Freedom
Robyn Gardner’s disappearance has taken another ominous turn – for her and Gary Giordano. Buying a $1.5 million insurance policy on a traveling companion who then disappears will attract suspicion. Still, let’s not prejudge and let’s ask, what do you do to try and gain your release if you’re held by police in a foreign country?
- When you’re held in a foreign country you’re at the mercy of its laws
- It’s essential to contact the US embassy or consulate ASAP
- Get advice from a local attorney before making statements or signing documents
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Getting Help Starts Before You Leave the US
Actually, it starts before the fact. Before leaving the country you should:
- Register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This will help embassy and consular officials contact you or your loved ones back home in an emergency
- Also check with State on Country Specific Information for the country(ies) you’ll be visiting. You may find there information about conduct to avoid that could get you arrested
- Consider purchasing travel insurance or assistance services. The package may provide legal assistance or it may be possible to include insurance for legal fees
But unfortunately you’ve been detained by foreign authorities (mistakenly, wrongfully or otherwise). What do you do when you’re arrested abroad?
- Ask to speak with a US embassy or consular official immediately. It’s your right under international treaty. Most countries observe this treaty but you have to demand that right
- Don’t give or sign any statements before this. This does not apply to aiding first responders in actual emergencies. But even then, once police turn to you in a criminal investigation, don’t make a statement without legal counsel. You can resume cooperation through your lawyer as appropriate
- Contact home. Embassy or consular officials can help with this. Your family or friends in the US can then get legal assistance there if that’s helpful. This will be easier if you’ve registered your contact information in advance
- Get a lawyer locally. Again, embassy or consular officials can help here by providing a list of local lawyers for you to contact
None of this assures you’ll be promptly released. For example, Giordano hasn’t been charged but Aruban authorities have jailed him while they investigate the case. That ordinarily wouldn’t happen in the US.
You should keep this in mind when traveling abroad. It’s not just that the law is different, and that conduct legal in the US may be criminal there. The criminal procedure may differ too, and you may not have the Constitutional rights we often take for granted here.
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