Legal Matters/Arrest in Thailand
Americans traveling or living in Thailand are subject to the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand. Please bear in mind that the Embassy is limited by jurisdiction in the assistance it can provide to Americans arrested in Thailand. The U.S. Government has no funds for your legal fees or other related expenses.
The Consular Role
Although consular officers cannot serve as attorneys or give legal advice, they can provide a list of local attorneys and help you find legal representation. However, neither the Department of State nor the U.S. Consulate can assume any responsibility for the caliber, competence, or professional integrity of these attorneys.
A consular officer will do whatever he/she can to protect your legitimate interests and ensure that you are not discriminated against under local law. A consular officer cannot release prisoners, provide guarantees of their comportment, or provide funds for bail. If you are arrested, immediately ask that a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy be notified. If you are turned down, keep asking--politely, but persistently. If unsuccessful, try to have someone get in touch with us on your behalf.
Upon learning of your arrest, a U.S. Consular Officer will visit you, provide a list of local attorneys, inform the Department of State of your arrest and, if requested, contact family or friends in the U.S. or elsewhere. Consuls can help you transfer money, food, and clothing from your family and friends. They will also try to get relief if you are held under inhumane or unhealthful conditions or are treated less equitably than others in the same situation.
The Embassy has compiled the following list of Thai law firms willing to assist English-speakers with a wide variety of legal concerns. Each firm listed below has English-speaking attorneys on staff and in many cases, Bangkok-based firms are able to conduct correspondence in English. Firms outside of the capital may not be able to offer a wide range of English services. It may be necessary for Americans to hire their own translator.
Firms are separated by location, with the largest number of firms located in Bangkok. This list contains contact information for attorneys in the Central and Southern regions of Thailand only. Those interested in attorneys practicing in Northern Thailand should contact the Consulate General in Chiang Mai by phone at (66) (53) 252-629. Inquiries may also be faxed to (66) (53) 252-633. The Consulate General is located at 387 Vidhayanond Road.
Please note: the American Embassy cannot guarantee the professional ability or integrity of these firms.
The Thai Judicial Process
Arrest: Police may hold you for questioning for up to 48 hours without judicial review. Then, police must either release you or take you before a judge for a “show cause” hearing. There, the judge will either order your release or decide that there are reasonable grounds to continue detention for 12 days while the alleged crime is investigated.
Investigative Detention: At this point, police will transfer you from their holding cell to a remand prison. (See “The Thai Penal System,” below.) Until the prosecutor files charges, a judge must reauthorize detention every 12 days. A judge may authorize a maximum of seven 12-day investigative detention periods (84 days total). For most offenses, there is the possibility of release on bail, but you must usually provide cash or assets located in Thailand as surety.
Filing Charges: No later than 91 days after your arrest (84 days of investigation, plus 7 days for prosecutorial review), the prosecutor must file formal charges. If the judge agrees with the charges, the case enters the pre-trial period. Your attorney, the prosecutor and the court will negotiate a trial date based on their schedules and availability.
Pre-Trial: This period can last a few weeks or a few months depending on the court’s caseload and the negotiated trial date. There is no discovery process in the Thai court system, so you will not have access to evidence before the trial. In general, there is little you can do to affect the way your case is presented. Most Thai attorney make these decisions with little consultation with their clients.
Trial: There are no jury trials in Thailand. Instead, a single judge usually decides misdemeanor cases, while two or more judges are required for more serious cases. Trials are conducted in Thai, and translation might not be available. Depending on the nature of the case, your trial could take one day or several days. You will not know the outcome immediately. The verdict reading will take place several weeks after the trial.
Sentencing: There are no mandatory rules about sentencing in criminal cases, but Thai judges must consider all circumstances pertaining to an offense as well as its severity. The usual penalty for a criminal conviction is a fine, imprisonment, or both. It is sometimes possible to get a lesser or suspended sentence by admitting guilt. However, this might not prevent you from being deported after trial. Sentences in drug-related cases can be much more severe than those for similar offenses in the U.S.
Appeal: If convicted, you have 30 days to decide whether to appeal. You can appeal either the guilty verdict or the severity of the sentence. The prosecutor can also appeal if you are acquitted or the state considers the sentence too light. Appeals are reviews of the case record by a panel of judges. There are two levels of appeal: Courts of Appeal (there is one in Chiang Mai) and the Supreme Court (in Bangkok). Appeal to either of these levels can take months or years. If you are convicted and have finished your appeals, you may seek a Royal Pardon by application through prison authorities.
The Thai Penal System
Overcrowding is common in Thai jails and prisons, and cells might be cramped. You will be provided with meals, though the type and quantity of food might be very different from what you are used to. You may receive visitors during designated hours. They can purchase additional food, toiletries, and comfort items for you at a special prison store. They also can deposit money in your prison account for you to use at the store. You may send and receive letters, but the prison administration will review mail and can withhold any items it deems insulting or defamatory.
If you are convicted, the Thai Department of Corrections can transfer you to a prison anywhere in Thailand. Foreigners often are transferred to Klongprem Prison in Bankgok. Under certain circumstances, you may apply to be transferred to a prison in the U.S. After serving their sentences, foreigners typically are deported.