Under the Consular Convention between Romania and the United States, Romania must notify the U.S. consular representative immediately after the arrest of a U.S. citizen takes place. The court, the state prosecutor, or the penal institution will make the notification.
Romania’s authority to try foreigners as well as its own citizens is based upon the principle of sovereignty, which is the right of a nation to make and enforce its laws within its own boundaries. Anyone who breaks the law in Romania is subject to prosecution under the Romanian legal system. If a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a Romanian court, this sentence will be served in a Romanian prison.
The Consul’s Role
A U.S. passport does not entitle the bearer to any special privileges or preferential treatment in Romania. In spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, neither the United States Government nor its representative, the American Consul, can get anybody out of prison. Nevertheless, neither arrest nor conviction deprives a United States citizen of the Consul’s best efforts in protecting the citizen’s legal and human rights.
The prisoner will be visited in jail as soon as possible after notification. A Consular Officer will then visit him/her periodically, and in an emergency will come right away. Prison visits enable the American Consul to monitor the health and well-being of the prisoner, as well as the status of the legal case.
Consular Officers are not attorneys. However, the Consular Officer will, as soon as possible, provide the prisoner with a representative List of English-speaking attorneys (PDF 98 KB). An attorney cannot be selected for the prisoner, nor can legal advice be given. The Consular Officer will ensure that the prisoner has adequate legal representation, where guaranteed by Romanian law.
The Consular Officer can intercede on the prisoner’s behalf when necessary to ensure that he/she receives adequate medical attention. The Consul will also look into complaints, and discuss them with the appropriate authorities.
The Consul will notify the prisoner’s family and friends, and relay requests for financial or other aid, provided he/she gives authorization to do so by signing a Privacy Act Waiver. The Consul can also serve as a liaison between the prisoner and his/her lawyer.
An arrested person should hire an attorney as early as possible. If the case involves anything more serious than a minor traffic violation, we recommend retaining a Romanian defense attorney. Romania has a civil law system based on Roman law and the Napoleonic Code. Because the criminal justice system in Romania is quite different from the constitutionally-modified system rooted in English Common Law which exists in the United States, an American arrested in Romania should expect significant differences in legal proceedings. For example, in Romania there is no jury and the trials, civil or criminal, are bench trials ending with a verdict issued by the judge.
The Romanian attorney is the primary source of advice. As in the U.S., the attorney is obliged to honor the attorney-client privilege. He may not reveal any confidential information, and the court in turn may not question the attorney. The prisoner should ask the attorney any questions that he may have about the case and listen carefully to his advice, for he is trained in Romanian law and has the duty to defend a person to the best of his ability.
An attorney will be appointed by the Court, additional legal services will be at the prisoner’s own expense.
The Department of State maintains a website outlining information pertaining to judicial assistance overseas. In addition, should you have further questions about the procedures not addressed in this material, please contact the Office of American Citizen Services, Europe and Canada Division, Department of State, 2201 C Street, N.W., Room 4817, Washington, DC 20520, Tel: 202-647-5226.