In early August, three brothers from Delray Beach were arrested on drug trafficking charges in the Dominican Republic after a brick of what police say was marijuana was found in the engine compartment of their rental car.
Lovensky, Lonelson, and John Nalus were freed from jail after a judge reportedly declared the arrest unconstitutional. But that was after a month behind bars, hundreds of miles from home. And, the brothers still have to remain in the country while an investigation into the drugs continues, according to their lawyer.
CBS 12 News first reported their story in an exclusive report Thursday.
The Nalus brothers must wait while the Dominican Republic legal system either proves or disproves their guilt. That is pretty common for Americans arrested abroad.
The State Department warns travelers that all U.S. citizens are still subject to the laws of the country they are visiting.
“Understand that you are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the country – follow them,” the State Department’s website reads.
The website adds the U.S. Embassy in that country can provide a list of attorneys who speak English, contact family, ensure proper medical care in jail and provide an overview of the country’s criminal system.
But the State Department cautions that the local embassy cannot get a U.S. citizen out of jail, provide legal advice or “state to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent.”
“Everybody’s got a different judicial system and you are subjecting yourself to that judicial system and those set of laws, whether you agree with them or not, or whether America has those laws or whether they don’t,” said Cory Strolla, a defense attorney in West Palm Beach.
Strolla added that court procedures, rules of evidence, burden of legal proof and other things may be different in courtrooms abroad than in the U.S. A trial overseas may look much different to the judicial process U.S. citizens are used to.
The State Department recommends that any American arrested overseas immediately request that prison officials contact the nearby U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
“I know many countries have no obligation to notify the consulate [on their own] that you’ve been arrested as an American citizen,” Strolla said.
Oftentimes, U.S. citizens arrested overseas will still have to hire lawyers to represent them and help them navigate the legal system of that particular country.
That can also be expensive.
In the Nalus’ brothers’ case, their father, who is a landscaper, had to pay roughly $15,000 to a lawyer in the Dominican Republic to represent his sons, according to family.