Every year approximately 7,500 Americans are arrested in foreign countries. Many are travelers who have assistance or travel insurance coverage with a legal consultation and referral benefit. Having access to a legal hotline operating 24/7 gives “peace of mind” to individuals who know where to turn for help in times of legal peril.
Callers range from teens to seniors. Some are arrested for crimes they did not know existed. For example, we received an emergency call through an assistance company, informing us that two U.S. study abroad students in France had been arrested after they snowboarded down a prohibited ski slope and caused a massive avalanche. One of our network lawyers in France successfully represented them. A conviction could have hampered their future travel plans and included incarceration. Another caller, a U.S. physician, also with travel insurance coverage, was cited in France for using a radar detector, which is illegal there. Ignoring the citation could have resulted in an arrest warrant with the probability of detention the next time he tried to enter France. Our network lawyer had the case dismissed.
Young travelers, including study abroad students, regularly get into trouble for alcohol-related activities in countries which legalize alcohol consumption at age 15 or 16, or which have no age limit whatsoever. “Disorderly conduct” and “malicious mischief” are typical charges, and without appropriate legal advice, convictions and harsh sentences are much more likely.
The further away from the U.S. a traveler goes, the greater the likelihood that the local laws will substantially vary from U.S. laws. In one memorable case, an insured middle-aged U.S. citizen traveling in Bangkok rushed to the airport when he received a call that his father was in the hospital with a heart attack. Aggravated by a lengthy wait to pay the departure tax, he ripped up a 50 baht bill and dropped it on the ground, whereupon he was immediately arrested. Because the Thai king’s image was on the money, destroying it was a serious violation of the “Respect for the King and the Royal Family” law. The traveler was suddenly facing 15 years in a brutal Thai prison. After extensive efforts here, including consultation with a forensic psychologist, our Thai lawyer obtained his release from custody and dismissal of the criminal charge.
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