What should a tourist do if arrested in Mexico and accused of carrying drugs?
By several accounts, Phoenix-area resident Yanira Maldonado did everything right when federal police said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat, setting off a weeklong drama that ended with her release from jail after a court found the allegations were unsubstantiated.
The steps authorities say you should take:
Notify the U.S. consulate: If you don’t have your consulate’s phone number — and you should — U.S. authorities say to insist that you be put you in touch. Consulates can reach family and friends and provide a list of attorneys.
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The U.S. State Department has a free online service to register your travel plans and better help in an emergency. Registration is at https://step.state.gov.
“Reaching your consulate always works to your advantage,” said Juan Tintos, tourism secretary for Mexico’s Baja California state, which includes Tijuana.
Hire a Mexican attorney: Many recommend Americans hire an attorney in Mexico because the country’s legal system is so different, presuming guilt instead of innocence. Good attorneys also know how to handle demands for money, distinguishing shakedowns from legitimate expenses for legal requirements.
“They’re never going to tell you it’s a bribe,” said Alonzo Pena, who retired as deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and was once stationed in Mexico. “They’ll say it’s a fee. It’s disguised as a legal requirement to move your case forward. Just make sure you do it through an attorney.”
Appeal to the news media: Pena, who suspects someone else on the bus put the drugs under Maldonado’s seat, said the family was wise to seek news coverage.
“It brought attention to it,” he said. “That really helped her a lot.”