Getting the chance to travel in a foreign country is one of the more exciting vacations that a person can have. Exploring new cities, trying new foods and experiencing other cultures first-hand is something that no traveler can forget. Before leaving, most people prepare by taking a few moments to learn the country's rules and customs to prevent unnecessary problems from arising.
What if some of the United State's laws applied while you were abroad? A new law proposed by Congressman Lamar Smith would significantly increase the government's power concerning drug activity. H.R. 313, the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011, would allow for conspiracy charges, a federal crime, against U.S. citizens who are traveling abroad if they engage in behavior that violates the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
For example, say you are planning a trip to France. Your spouse, who has a cold, discusses with you the need to buy cold medicine before you leave on the trip. You forget. While in France, you go to a drug store and buy an over-the-counter cold medication that is completely legal there. If this medication required a prescription in the U.S., you could be facing conspiracy charges because you booked the trip in the U.S. and then violated the CSA.
The proposal comes after a 2007 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11 th Circuit, U.S. v Lopez-Vanegas. In this case, the defendant had been convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine when he arranged a deal between a Colombian drug trafficking ring and a Saudi Prince. The drugs were to be flown from Venezuela to Europe for distribution. At no point would the drugs have been in or been distributed in the United States.
Lopez-Vanegas and other co-defendants were originally convicted of conspiracy because they held meetings in Miami. The Court of Appeals reversed these convictions, because it felt that the conspiracy statute as written did not apply to activities that would take place in foreign countries.
Critics feel that this particular bill would allow the government to aggressively pursue drug crimes in other countries. The law could also potentially criminalize activities of doctors and researchers, making it difficult to discover new methods of treatment for those who abuse drugs.
If you have been charged with a drug crime, you have rights. Discuss your situation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area to learn more about your options. You need to know what you can do to defend yourself against these accusations. Police and prosecutors are not your friends - anything that you tell them will be used against you in court.