What to do if you are arrested in Italy

Assistance for foreign prisoners in Italian penitentiaries

What to do if you are arrested in Italy

The foreigners detained in Italian prisons are almost 25,000, nearly a third of the entire prison population (68,000). About half of them are awaiting trial.

The high number is due to many factors, such as the increase of foreign population living in Italy, the difficulty of foreign prisoners to obtain precautionary measures alternatives to the custody in prison and the introduction of the crime of illegal immigration in the Italian penal Code.

Our aim is not to express a personal opinion on immigration and prison policies of Italian government, but rather to give to foreign prisoners and their families practical advice to obtain a fair trial and above all the transfer to their countries.

Consular Protection

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (April 24, 1963), when a foreigner is arrested in Italy, authorities must inform him about the possibility to seek protection of his consulate.

Italian authorities are not obliged to inform the consulate about the arrest, unless the inmate asks for it.

Generally the consulate provides to his compatriot:

- visits in prison by a consular officer

- a list of local lawyers and their contacts

- contact with family (only with prisoner’s consent)

- medical care and basic needs (when necessary and if permitted by local rules)

Foreign consulates are not involved in legal proceedings on behalf of his compatriot and they don’t bear the legal costs. Moreover, consular protection is not always the same for all foreigners. In fact, it depends on the laws and consular organization of the country to which the inmate belongs and especially on the economic resources of each consulate (generally the consular protection provided by U.S., Canadian or West European consulates is greater than that provided by the poorest countries'consulates).

About family visits in prison, it is necessary to contact the penitentiary administration, because the visits are subject to specific limitations.

The choice of the local lawyer

The choice of a lawyer in Italy may be critical, so it must be done with extreme caution. Consular offices provide a list of Italian criminal lawyers, but these are not always able to communicate in the language of the foreigner. In any case, only the lawyers can defend arrested persons before the courts. Prisoner or his family must beware of anyone who proposes a fast release upon payment of a bribe. Corruption is severely punished in Italy and it could aggravate the position of the prisoner.

For these reasons the choice of the lawyer who will represent the prisoner before Italian courts and in the next steps related to the transfer to his country (under the Strasburg Convention of 1983), must be very careful and take into account the following characteristics:

- experience in criminal law and in the specific case

- ability to communicate in the language of the prisoner

- knowledge of international law

In Italy there are many international law firms able to provide a full legal assistance, ensuring necessary aid in prison (providing basic needs, messages from family and more), the establishment of a defensive strategy and the proceedings related to the transfer or clemency requests.

By Mr. Luca Santaniello
Lawyer at Santaniello & Partners 

Please, see also:

Drug laws in Italy

Extradition from Italy

International Criminal Lawyers in Italy

Production, trafficking and illegal possession of drugs or psychotropic substances in Italy

For more information, please contact International Criminal Lawyers in Rome