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How to Handle US Criminal Charges When Overseas

us criminal charges abroad

The US Constitution has jurisdiction over crimes committed in locations outside the country. Under specific circumstances, US courts can prosecute certain criminal acts even if the accused are not American citizens.

Several federal statutes have extraterritorial applications and can affect foreign citizens in overseas locations. If the US Constitution specifically states that a law applies to actions outside US territory, defendants can be prosecuted. Here are some of the situations that US jurisdiction covers.

Table of Contents:

Citizens’ Misconduct Abroad

US criminal law encompasses US citizens living and working abroad. As long as you’re an American, your conduct is regulated by US law. For example, if you’re traveling to Portugal on vacation and are found guilty of insider trading, you can be prosecuted in a US court of law. Similarly, receiving a subpoena makes it mandatory for you to be present in court on the appointed date. Not complying with the order can attract criminal charges. (Blackmer v. the United States, 284 U.S. 421, 438-41, 1932).

Here’s another instance. Any US citizens traveling in foreign locations and engaging in prohibited lewd acts such as possession of child pornography and sexual activity with minors are subject to US laws and can be charged with criminal activity (the United States of America v. Nicholas Bredimus 234 F. Supp. 2d 639, 2002). The Commerce Clause specifically includes any travel conducted for immoral and injurious reasons.

If you’re unsure about how to deal with charges that involve multiple nations, you would want to contact a criminal lawyer in the state that you are facing those charges. This rule also applies to corporate entities that are subject to the state’s laws where they have registered.


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Crimes Committed Against a US Citizen

us criminal

US law has jurisdiction over any person committing a crime against a US citizen, regardless of their nationality. For instance, a Canadian company incorporated across the border defrauding American citizens and shareholders with falsified financial statements can be prosecuted by US law (Cinar Corporation Securities Litigation, et al. 186 F. Supp. 2d 279, 2002).

That’s because the American Constitution has anti-fraud provisions to protect US citizens from losses arising because of fraud from the sales of securities. 

Corporations Conducting Transactions Involving US Citizens

US laws govern trades and any other complex financial transactions conducted within the US and/or involve American citizens. A good example is E. On Ag, et al., v. Acciona, et al. (468 F. Supp. 2d 559, 2007), where a Spanish company sued tender-offering entities of German origin.

The German entity was accused of acquiring Spanish stocks by buying them from American investors. Although both the parties in the lawsuit are foreign, US laws have jurisdiction since US citizens are involved.

Crimes that Threaten the Security of the US or Affect its Operations

Any criminal activity by a foreign citizen that could threaten the security of the US or hamper its regular functioning is punishable by US law. For instance, a visa applicant making false claims or lying on their application while under oath to the US consular officer (U.S. v. Pizzarusso, 388 F.2d 8, Ct. App., 1968).

The foreign national can be indicted and convicted by US courts for intentionally making a false statement. 

Crimes that Are Especially Heinous in Nature

The United States Law reserves the right to arrest and prosecute any person who is a citizen of any country worldwide and present in any location for crimes that are especially heinous and condemned by every nation.

The US Constitution permits punishing the person in the representation of the world’s community. These crimes against humanity include offenses like the slave trade, terrorism, apartheid, genocide, torture, war crimes, and the forcible relocation of entire populations. 

Understanding the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) covers various crimes and makes them punishable under US law, regardless of whether the accused is a US citizen or a foreign national.

Some of the crimes that the US Constitution can prosecute even if they occurred at an overseas location include cybercrime, money laundering, bribery, extortion, unlawfully acquiring US citizenship, forging US passports, murder, or illegally gaining funds designated for welfare and charity. 

Stay Protected from Fraudulent Foreign Transactions

Although US laws protect citizens from fraudulent transactions on American soil or a foreign country, you must take the necessary precautions when entering into any legal deal. Make sure to draw up the purchase or sales deeds, agreements, or any other documentation with the advice of an experienced attorney.

Hire the services of lawyers who are knowledgeable about the laws of the country where you’re entering into the deal. For complete security, contact an authorized e-notary to sign and fix the electronic notary seal on the documents. The official will also verify the identities of the parties to the agreement and ensure that it is valid in a US court of law. 

Tax Evasion Laws for US Citizens

criminal charges

Evading taxes and misreporting your income is also a punishable offense and subject to criminal prosecution in a US court of law. US citizens and residents holding a Green Card are expected to file tax returns each year to report their income from all worldwide sources. Signing their returns when submitting to the IRS affirms that the information provided in the documents by the taxpayer is accurate to the full extent of their knowledge. 

Any person who is found guilty of hiding income and assets faces fines and even jail time. Avoid this situation by working with a well-informed tax consultant who can advise and assist you with filing online returns from any location. Keep in mind that you must file returns even if your income is below the taxation limit or if you’re a resident of another country and pay taxes in the overseas location. 


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You Could Get Extradited to Face Criminal Charges in the US

American citizens can get the protection of US law for any crimes committed against them. However, they can also expect to suffer the consequences of any criminal acts they commit, even if they are located overseas. The US has bilateral extradition treaties with more than 107 countries.

According to this agreement, people found guilty of crimes by American courts can get extradited to the US. The law enforcement agencies in both countries may work together to locate the defendants and send them back to the US for trial. Though, these treaties are not legally binding, and extradition can be a complicated process. 

The US Constitution Recognizes the Right to a Fair Trial

Getting accused of committing a crime does not mean that you face imprisonment. US law does not require defendants to prove their innocence. Public prosecutors must prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Further, an arrest can occur only after the police have evidence to support a probable cause that the defendant is responsible for the crime.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, the accused could be sent to jail while they wait for the court hearing. Often, the judge may allow the defendant to post bail to guarantee that they’ll return for the trial. This amount is returned if the prosecutor is unable to prove the charges. 

Any person facing criminal charges when overseas may want to get added information about the exact nature of the accusations. The US Constitution has jurisdiction over different situations where US citizens or foreign nationals can be held accountable in an American court of law.

You could get arrested and extradited to the US if your host country has a bilateral country with the US. Even if you’re brought back to the US, expect to get a fair trial before actual sentencing. 

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***Please Note: If you are a resident of a country that is a signatory of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) (or a US citizen) your tax reduction possibilities are limited. Due FATCA, CRS, and CFC laws you may not be able to completely eliminate your taxes without moving your residence (or US citizenship.) While opening an offshore company can increase privacy and asset protection, your tax obligations remans tied to your ownership of overseas entities. Offshore company's are often not taxed in the country where they are incorporated, rather you as the owner are obligated to pay taxes in the country where you reside. Please make sure you know your tax obligations, as we are not tax advisors. Please seek a local tax professional for help regarding your situation. 

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