International Crime - An Overview

Many Americans are arrested while traveling in foreign countries. Too many of them assume that they have the same rights in foreign courts as they do in the U.S. Many of them also assume that the U.S. embassy or consulate will be able to help them be released from custody. Both assumptions are false. U.S. diplomatic personnel may extend only limited help to Americans who are arrested. The U.S. embassy or consulate must be notified of the arrest. A consular officer will contact the arrested American, and give him or her a list of English-speaking lawyers. Embassy or consular personnel do not "pull strings," or make efforts to get Americans released from custody. If you are dealing with an international arrest, contact an attorney as soon as you are able to do so.

International criminal law refers to crimes that involve more than one country. It sometimes refers to crimes committed in one country that have an effect in another country. It also deals with securing suspects, witnesses and evidence from other countries to prosecute a crime. International criminal law is a complex field that is undergoing continuous change. If you are involved in an international criminal matter, contact an attorney with knowledge and experience in the field.

Types of International Crimes

The term "international crime" includes a wide spectrum of activity such as:

  • Terrorism
  • Arms and drug trafficking
  • Organized crime
  • Internet crime
  • Financial crimes (money laundering, tax crimes)
  • Apprehending fugitives
  • Crimes against humanity (genocide, war crimes)
  • Human trafficking
  • Intellectual property piracy
  • Antiquities and artifacts theft/trade
  • Endangered species trade

As the world becomes more interdependent, many countries have found ways to work together to investigate, prosecute and prevent international criminal activity. This includes international organizations such as Interpol and the International Criminal Court (ICC) and international agreements, like TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

International Cooperation in Criminal Law Matters

International travel and transactions are becoming increasingly commonplace, which adds a new dimension to the enforcement of criminal laws. Many ordinary people have been put at risk of being victimized by international criminals as the Internet has made it easier to perpetrate crimes across borders. The fight against terrorism is a global fight with attacks occurring in the U.S., Asia, Africa and Europe.

Several treaties and international conventions exist that provide for cooperation between different countries in criminal matters. Some of these treaties are bilateral, meaning they are just between two countries, like extradition treaties. Other treaties, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), are multinational and involve the participation of several countries.

The international agency Interpol also works to coordinate information and resource sharing between member nations about criminal matters that involve more than one country. Membership in Interpol is contract-based and the member countries set up a National Central Bureau (NCB) staffed by their own law enforcement officers to facilitate information-sharing among other member countries.

Crimes Committed in Foreign Countries

With the exception of crimes prosecuted by international tribunals, like war crimes or genocide, criminal laws are enforced by the country that enacted them. Americans traveling in foreign countries are subject to the criminal laws of those countries. If they break those laws, they run the risk of being prosecuted in that country. They are entitled to no special rights or privileges because they are Americans and are treated no differently than anyone else arrested in that country. While U.S. consular offices can provide lists of attorneys available to represent Americans arrested abroad and can provide information to and from family members, the U.S. consular cannot act as a legal representative or order the citizen released from the foreign country's custody.

It is important for Americans to be aware of the cultural and legal differences before traveling abroad and to obey the laws of the country they are visiting at all times. Drug crimes are the most common crimes Americans are accused and convicted of abroad. Penalties can range from incarceration for 2-10 years or longer, fines, hard labor and in some countries, the death penalty.

Crimes Committed in the United States

A crime committed in the United States may also take on an international character. Suspects frequently flee the U.S., hoping for a safe haven in another country. This necessitates extradition proceedings to request the surrender of the suspect to U.S. authorities. In these circumstances, several federal agencies work together to facilitate the return of the suspect to the U.S., including the Department of Justice and the State Department. U.S. diplomatic representatives within the country where the suspect has fled will make a formal request to the country for the suspect's surrender in accordance with any applicable extradition treaty. The country may then decide to turn the person over to the U.S. officials or to deny the request.

International Criminal Adjudication

There are many ways to adjudicate crimes that involve more than one country. If the parties responsible for committing the crime flee to another country, the country where the crime was committed may request the criminals be extradited to face charges. On a larger scale, if the offender is a country that hasn't followed through on its obligations under an international treaty, the country may be held accountable and punished with fines, trade sanctions or other measures.

There are two international courts that have been created for very distinct purposes: the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICJ is part of the United Nations and was established in 1945. Its sole purpose is to settle disputes between member states. Individuals are not permitted to submit complaints to the ICJ.

The ICC in an independent international body established by the Rome Statute in 1998. To date, 105 countries are signatories to the treaty and have accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. The ICC will hear cases submitted by individuals making claims against another party for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. Presently, the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC treaty.

Speak to a Criminal Lawyer

International criminal law is an area that could affect virtually anyone. Advances in international communication, as well as the ease of traveling to foreign lands, make international crime a concern for everyone. If you are involved in an international criminal matter, seek the assistance of an attorney experienced in these matters as soon as possible. Call Frank A. Rubino, Esq. at 866-718-3994 or contact him online. Mr. Rubino maintains offices in Houston and Miami, but represents clients around the world.