Mandeep Chhabra Gives Tips on What to do if Your Teen is Locked-Up Overseas

March 21, 2012

With spring break approaching, Mandeep Chhabra, Managing Partner of Cochran, Cochran & Chhabra, explains that even the best teens and college students can make innocent mistakes when traveling overseas. Mr. Chhabra says the first few minutes can determine whether your teen walks away, spends a night in jail or like Amanda Knox, runs into serious trouble. Mr. Chhabra offers tips on what every parent should tell their teens and college students before they head off overseas.

“It may turn out that even a U.S.-friendly government, Italy for example, is not as friendly as you think,” said Mandeep Chhabra, Managing Partner of Cochran, Cochran & Chhabra in Annapolis, Maryland said. “Italy sentenced Amanda Knox in error and Mexico – a spring break hot spot – has an up and down relationship with the U.S.”

Amanda Knox and visions of Mexican jails are extreme cases, Mr. Chhabra said and more common are students traveling abroad not understanding the local laws and having an unintended brush with police. As a leading criminal defense lawyer, Mr. Chhabra has valuable tips for parents sending their children overseas for spring break.

“Whether your child’s arrest is caused by deliberate wrongdoing, a case of mistaken identity or a stupid prank gone awry, your child will be treated like any other crime suspect taken into police custody for interrogation,” Mr. Chhabra said.

“In the unfortunate event that this happens abroad, how your child deals with the situation will have a considerable influence on how their case will turn out later. It is crucial that your child handles their arrest appropriately. Any mistake committed at this time will not be easy to rectify afterward.”

An arrest, on its own, is a traumatic enough experience. And worse if it happens abroad where your child does not know how the legal processes works and if your child cannot read or understand the language.

“It is easy to panic when this happens,” said Mr. Chhabra. “However, keep in mind that quick thinking and a calm disposition is more important than ever. If your child lets the situation unnerve them, they can easily commit critical mistakes during the interrogation process that may hurt the chances of their case.”

When an arrest happens, it is important not to say anything or admit anything, even to defend themselves. Sometimes in the haste to explain the situation for their defense, your child might end up with convoluted and inconsistent statements that can worsen the situation instead of helping it.

The police officers may intimidate your child into signing a blank paper or a statement in a language your child does not understand.

“Tell your child to stand their ground by calmly, but firmly, refusing to affix their signature on any form or document,” said Mr. Chhabra. “If your child can avoid talking or making any statement of whatever kind, do so. Wait until your child has been properly advised by a legitimate legal counsel of their choice before your child makes any statement regarding their case.”

The best thing that your child can do is to request to contact the US consulate and talk to a consular officer or his representative, Mr. Chhabra said. Your child needs to contact them as soon as possible because they are in a position to advise your child of the significance of their arrest and the legal procedure that will follow. They can also provide your child with a lawyer to inform your child of what is going on, what your child’s best options are and how to go about it. The consulate can also notify you of what’s happening and arrange for you to visit.

“If your child has been subjected to any form of abuse, whether physical or psychological, inform a consulate representative and lawyer about it,” Mr. Chhabra said. “Be as detailed as possible. It can also help if your child can alert international organizations on human rights about the incident.”

A phone call from you is also invaluable, so exert efforts to make this happen. Ask your child what happened. Advise them not to tone down the story.

“The more you know and understand about what happened, the better you can help your child. If you have to petition the government, seek help from congressional representatives and alert the media about your child’s case,” Mr. Chhabra said. “This will help compel the government to hasten any actions that can help in your child’s immediate release.”

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