Most travelers are in search of fun and adventure while traveling throughout Argentina. But what are you to do if your adventures lead to a sticky legal situation? We sat down with Dr. Gastón M. Marano, from MGR Legal Consultants (a local firm specializing in international disputes here in Buenos Aires) and asked him two important questions about getting busted in Argentina:
What to do if you are arrested?
The number one rule of thumb is “Do not resist an arrest,” as tempting as that may be.
It is extremely important to bring along some piece of ID at all times and to identify yourself as a foreigner if you are being arrested. Unless you really need it, leave your passport in your hotel safe or at home and carry a color copy instead. This is important because under Art. 36 of the VCCR (Vienna Convention on Consular Relations), the host government (vis-a-vis Argentina) must promptly notify your country of citizenship of your incarceration (this only applies if you are under custody for more than 24 hours; important restrictions apply if you are a dual citizen). If you do not have an ID with you, this may result in a minor arrest event that should not last longer than 10 hours.
When arrested, make sure you ask to make a phone call and that you have someone to call that can have a “multiplier effect” (this is, call a whole bunch of other people that might be worried on your behalf). You have to think carefully about who you should be calling. The best option is always your lawyer and, if you don’t have one, many Embassies have 24/7 emergency operators that can provide you with a few options for local attorneys.
The last piece of important info to consider is that, unless you are a fluent Spanish speaker, you should explain (in rudimentary Spanish at least) that you do not understand the language and the process you are undergoing. Until your lawyer is present do not say anything beyond whatever is necessary for you to be properly filed and identified (name, nationality, age, passport number). In addition, do not touch, smell, pay or sign anything. You never have an obligation to sign anything you do not understand, and until a translator and your lawyer are present, you should refrain from doing so.
What can happen if you are busted with small quantities of drugs?
Many people seem to believe that since August `09, that the ruling of the Supreme Court of Argentina on the case “Arriola” meant the possession of drugs for personal consumption is no longer a crime (the case was exactly about just that and the defendant was found “not punishable”). This is a misconception since in Argentina, the findings of the Supreme Court only pertain to the particular case under examination (different to the reality in other common-law countries such as the U.S. or the UK). The Supreme Court ruling definitely serves as a precedent for the lower courts when they have to handle these types of cases, but it does not change the fact that there is still a law out there stating than the possession of illegal drugs is punishable. It is common-sense to think that Congress, sooner than later, will modify that law to be consistent with the ruling of the Supreme Court, but that has still not happened.
So, technically speaking, the possession of drugs for personal consumption is still a crime in Argentina (under Law 23737, art. 14), punishable with a minimum of 1 month of prison to a maximum of 2 years. If you are deemed to be an addict, the judge could also impose protective measures, such us sending you to a public or private detox center. It is interesting to notice that the law applies equally to all forbidden substances and makes no difference between marijuana, paco, cocaine, LSD or speed.
There you have it. Free legal advice for those emergencies that you might find yourself in. Stay safe and be cool, stay in school.