If You Are Arrested in Honduras
It is important for all Americans arrested in Honduras to be aware that Honduran legal procedures and traditions differ greatly from those to which most Americans are accustomed. Judicial procedures are not always clear or easily understood by foreigners; significant delays during the investigation and trial dates are common. American citizens, as well as Hondurans, are often held in jail for months, and sometime years, while awaiting trial.
Honduran Judicial Procedure
According to Honduran Criminal Procedure Code, a person arrested in Honduras may be held for up to 24 hours while the authorities investigate or obtain sufficient evidence to support the accusation made against that person. The detainee may be held at premises of the criminal investigative police (Dirección Nacional de Investigación [DGIC]) or the local police (Policía Preventiva).
Within 24 hours of the initial detention, several things must take place:
- The police must decide to either release the detainee or turn the case over to the Prosecutor's Office (Ministerio Público).
- The Prosecutor's Office (Ministerio Público) must review the evidence and decide whether or not to prosecute the case.
- The detainee must be brought before the court or be released.
- If the defendant does not have enough money to hire a private attorney, the Court will appoint a Public Defender (Defensor Público).
The Court will then determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed or dismiss the case. At this time the Prosecutor's Office (Ministerio Público) may request the Court to grant an extension of time (6 days by law) to further investigate the case. Once the 6-day investigative period is up the detainee will appear before his initial hearing. At this time the Court will review the evidence and decide either to dismiss the case or to proceed with the accusation. If the Court decides to proceed with the case it will also decide if the detainee will be sent to a penitentiary pending trail, be placed under house arrest, be released under personal recognizance (medidas cautelares), or be released on bail (fianza). For those defendants over sixty years of age, the Court will assign them to house arrest during the investigation and trial, however, if they are convicted, they will serve their time in a penitentiary.
The Honduran prison system provides minimal food to prisoners, bedding will depend on availability, and no clothing is provided. Prisoners may rely on family members and/or friends to provide assistance.
The judicial procedure in criminal cases is divided into three stages: the Preliminary Stage, Intermediate Stage, and the Trial Stage. The Preliminary Stage entails the initial 24 hour detention period, the 6-day investigative period, and the initial hearing. The Intermediate Stage entails the arraignment hearing. The Trial Stage entails the trial, verdict, and sentencing. Please note that the Trial Stage may be delayed up to a period of two years from the time of the arrest. The Ruling Court during a trial consists of three magistrates and no jury. The verdict will be rendered immediately after the close of the trial. The sentence will be pronounced at a separate hearing, which should take place within 30 days after the verdict was rendered.
The Role of the United States Embassy
The Embassy cannot advocate the merits of a citizen's case, secure the citizen's release, or act as legal counsel. The U.S. Embassy will, however, make every effort to ensure that all American citizens are treated equitably according to the laws of Honduras and international humanitarian standards. The Embassy must emphasize that American citizens --whether tourists, businesspeople or residents of Honduras -- are guests in a sovereign country and are subject to the laws of Honduras. U.S. law does not apply in Honduras. American citizens should also be aware that Due Process and other Constitutional guarantees that they are accustomed to in the United States, for the most part, do not exist here.
Under the Vienna Convention and the Bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights of 1928, the Honduran government has the obligation to notify the American Embassy of an American citizen's arrest. Following notification, an American Consular officer will visit the arrested citizen as soon as possible. A list of local attorneys will be provided and will gladly notify the next-of-kin of the arrest if the citizen desires. A local attorney will be able to provide specific information about legal options and possible strategies to address a particular situation.
If the citizen alleges that he or she has been mistreated or abused, the U.S. Embassy will contact the appropriate authorities and investigate the charges. If the allegations of abuse are verified, we will protest to the Honduran authorities on the citizen's behalf.
We hope you find the aforementioned information helpful. Should you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the American Citizens Services Unit at 2238-5114, extension 4400.