An Italian appeals court has acquitted Amanda Knox of the 2007 slaying of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox has been in jail for four years awaiting trial and upon conviction. Her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was also absolved of wrongdoing.
Knox was found guilty of defaming a man she implicated in Kercher's murder. For that she was sentenced to a three years in jail. Because she's already served that much time and more, she's been set free.
Millions of Americans travel internationally each year. In the vast majority of cases everything goes smoothly and they return home safely. Sometimes there's trouble, though. Would you know what to do?
Extended - Unwelcome - Trips
Sometimes when Americans travel abroad they're arrested or detained by law enforcement officials for committing crimes under the laws of the countries they're visiting. For instance:
Amanda Knox is a 23-year-old American student who was convicted in 2009 of murdering a British student in Italy where they were studying. Knox is serving a 26-year prison sentence in Italy.
The murder happened in 2007. From that time Knox has maintained she's innocent. In late 2010, she'll challenge her conviction and sentence in an Italian appeal court.
Alan Gross supposedly was in Cuba on a humanitarian mission in late 2009. However, Cuban officials linked him with a secret program backed by the US government. The program is said to undermine the Cuban government and foster the growth of democracy.
As of early November 2010, Gross is still being held in Cuba, but he hasn't been accused of any crime.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been held by Iranian authorities since July 2009. Both were hiking near the Iran/Iraq border with Sarah Shourd, who's Bauer's fiancé. All three were charged with illegal entry and espionage. Shroud was released in September 2010, but Bauer and Fattal are still being held.
What To Do
If you (or loved one) travels outside the US, keep in mind that you're subject to the laws of the land you're visiting. In most countries the laws are very different from the laws in the US. A minor crime in the US may be a severe crime elsewhere. And you may not enjoy the same rights as someone arrested in this country.
It's a good idea to know what to if you're arrested or detained in another country.
Before You Leave
Before you leave the US, take some steps to protect yourself:
- Give a friend or family member who's staying home a copy of your itinerary - give travel information, like flight numbers, etc.; name and phone number of where you'll be staying and its telephone number; names, etc., of anyone traveling with you
- Register your trip with the US State Department. One of its major duties is to help US citizens who are in trouble in another country. Registering your trip helps the State Department act quickly to help you if you're arrested or detained
- Make sure your passport and other travel documents are valid and up-to-date. As Gross found out in Cuba, not having the proper travel documents is one sure way to find legal problems in another country
- Familiarize yourself with some of the laws and customs of the country you're visiting
When Trouble Finds You
Once you realize you're in some trouble and local authorities may not let you go, contact the US embassy or consulate in the country as soon as possible. Or, ask that the authorities let the embassy know you've been detained.
Under an international treaty, embassy officials are supposed to be able to see and communicate with their citizens. But, foreign authorities have to tell the embassy you've been arrested only if you ask them to tell the embassy. Also, keep in mind that many, but not all foreign counties follow this treaty.
Once the State Department is involved, it will do a number of things, such as:
- Visit you to help make sure you're being treated fairly and humanely
- Give you a list of local attorneys who may be able to help you
- Contact your family and friends
- Arrange for medical care if needed
- Arrange for visits from family members and perhaps humanitarian aid workers
If you're loved one is in legal trouble, contact the State Department immediately.
No one wants to have legal problems while visiting another country. Unfortunately it happens, though. If you prepare ahead of time, you go a long way toward protecting yourself.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can you help a family member who's being held in another country? Can you work with an attorney in that country?
- How should I pay for legal assistance in another country?
- What should I do if my passport is stolen while I'm out of the country?