Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

U.S. citizens are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the United States, regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

If you are arrested in Germany or know a U.S. citizen who is:

For members of the U.S. military, there is a general waiver by the state of Germany waiving jurisdiction under the Status of Forces Agreement. The German public prosecutor can revoke this waiver within a certain period after notification. This is done very rarely and only in cases of felonies. Thus U.S. servicemen and women are almost always tried in a U.S. military court.

Consular Assistance to U.S. Prisoners:

When a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, he or she may be initially confused and disoriented. It can be more difficult because the prisoner is in unfamiliar surroundings, and may not know the local language, customs, or legal system.

We can:

  • Provide a list of local English-speaking attorneys.
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen with their written permission. In all communications with the Consular Officer, the right to privacy is protected by U.S. law under the Privacy Act. The embassy or consulate will not release information related to the detained U.S. citizen to anyone — regardless of their relationship to the citizen — unless the detainee specifically authorizes the release by signing a Privacy Act Waiver. Waivers are available from your nearest consulate upon request.
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen periodically to monitor his/her well-being, health and status of the legal case.
  • Help ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care.
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process.
  • Serve as a liaison between the prisoner and his/her lawyer.
  • If they would like, ensuring that prison officials are permitting visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of your choice.

We cannot:

  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail.
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent.
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court overseas.
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators.
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees for U.S. citizens overseas.

Additional information can be found on the Department of State’s website at Arrest or Detention of a U.S. Citizen Abroad.

Last Updated: October 21, 2020