Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

Under Article 36(1) b of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Hungarian authorities must, at the person’s request, notify the consular representative of his/her country of nationality immediately after the arrest takes place.  The court, the state prosecutor, or the penal institution will make the notification.  In addition, the diplomatic representative of the person’s country can, if he/she agrees, also be notified of the reasons for the arrest.

Anyone who breaks the law in Hungary is subject to prosecution under the Hungarian legal system.  If a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a Hungarian court, this sentence will be served in a Hungarian prison.

Hungary’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.  For members of the U.S. military, there is a general waiver by the state of Hungary waiving jurisdiction under the Status of Forces Agreement. The Hungarian public prosecutor can revoke this waiver within a certain period after notification.  This is done very rarely, however.  Thus U.S. servicemen and women are usually tried in a U.S. military court.  All American civilians in Hungary, however, including military dependents, civilian Army employees, and former servicemen and women are under the absolute jurisdiction of Hungarian courts.  The Hungarian legal system provides many safeguards to ensure that the investigations and possible trials are conducted fairly.

The Consul’s Role

A U.S. passport does not entitle the bearer to any special privileges or preferential treatment in Hungary.  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.

If, at the time of arrest, the prisoner requests that the American Consulate be notified, he/she 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.  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 Hungarian law.  The Consulate will, if the prisoner so desires, obtain copies of the bill of indictment and trial proceedings.

The Consular Officer can intercede on the prisoner’s behalf when necessary to ensure that he/she receives adequate medical attention.  The Consul also will look into any 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 the prisoner gives authorization to do so by signing a waiver of his or her Privacy Act rights.  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 Hungarian defense attorney.  Hungarian lawyers are naturally very familiar with Hungarian law and proceedings in Hungarian courts.

The Hungarian attorney is the primary source of advice.  The prisoner should regard him/her as though he/she were an American attorney defending him/her in an American court.  The prisoner should ask the attorney any questions that he/she may have about the case and listen carefully to the attorney’s advice, for he/she is trained in Hungarian law and has the duty to defend a person to the best of his/her ability.

Attorney Fees

Legal services will be at the prisoner’s own expense.

Links to Sources of Information about the Hungarian Legal System

Hungarian Web Resources