Cablegate: Improving Consular Notification for Drug

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

Refs: (A) 2005 International Narcotics Strategy Control
Report, (B) 01 STATE 10160, (C) 04 PARIS 5995


1. Summary. Drug trafficking violations continue to account
for more than 75 percent of AmCit arrests in France despite
a general decline in detentions of our citizens. While
undertaking to improve our understanding of arrest,
sentencing and detention procedures in France, post's
consular section concluded it was equally important to
address the issue of prompt notification to the Embassy of
detained drug trafficking suspects. In the following
overview, post reports on the specific GOF procedures
related to drug trafficking arrests that will help us better
address inquiries from prisoners and other sources.
Paragraphs 2 through 15 provide an up-to-date resource of
French judicial procedures concerning drug trafficking. In
paragraph 16, we describe our efforts to receive more timely
notification through implementation of an "Action Plan".
The "Action Plan" specifically describes measures we are
taking to establish and strengthen contacts with GOF law
enforcement agencies. Through the improved channel of
communication, we hope gain clarification on their
implementation of the Vienna Convention on Consular
Relations of 1963 (VCCR) and the 1966 Franco-American
Bilateral Consular Convention (BCC). End summary.


2. Customs or drug enforcement authorities typically
initiate a drug trafficking arrest in France. French law
enforcement also works frequently in cooperation with
Interpol, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or
other foreign drug enforcement agencies to combat
international drug trafficking networks. Most AmCit drug
trafficking suspects are apprehended at Charles De Gaulle
airport in Paris. Other arrests are made at seaports in
southern France, at sea by French Coast Guard or by traffic
stops and checkpoints initiated by French Customs on major
road and rail trafficking corridors-- notably Belgium, Spain
and Great Britain (Ref A). By law, French law enforcement
authorities must inform a detainee of the reason for his
arrest in a language he understands. There is however an
exception provided for French Customs. Customs is allowed
to detain individuals without stating any reason or cause
for up to 24 hours.

3. Once Customs turns a suspected drug trafficker over to
drug enforcement authorities, the detainee can be held for
an additional 96 hours before he must be brought before a
judge for charges. (Note: For most other crimes, it is 72
hours. End note.) This custody period is called the "Garde
a Vue." French law also allows the prosecutor to suspend
the detainee's right to legal counsel and family
notification for up to 72 hours during the "Garde a Vue"
period if he determines that allowing these rights would
compromise the investigation.


4. Based on our experience, in practice the GOF interprets
"detention," as indicated in Article 36 of the VCCR and
Article 34 of the BCC, to be the moment an arrestee is taken
out of "Garde a Vue" and sent to prison after he is charged
with a crime. Since it can take up to five days before this
occurs, several more days for the prison to process a letter
notifying us of an AmCit's arrest, and another two or three
days before we receive the letter, the GOF's notification
practice exceeds the 72-hour timeframe that is our
interpretation of "without delay" stated in the VCCR (Ref
B). Post has in response developed an action plan detailed
in paragraph 16, to reduce the lag between an alleged drug
trafficker's detention and our notification by the GOF.

5. Currently in the vast majority of cases, the DEA
provides the Embassy with information of an AmCit drug
trafficking arrest. In addition, the French police,
prisons, and courts will give us an official notification
about a third of the time. On very rare occasions, the
prisoner's friends or family will inform post of the arrest.

6. Post receives arrest information from the DEA via
"L'Office Central pour la Repression du Trafic Illicite de
Stupefiants" (Central Office for Suppression of Illegal Drug
Trafficking), the French drug enforcement agency commonly
referred to as OCRTIS. The DEA and OCRTIS work very closely
together by sharing intelligence and coordinating operations
in France and internationally (Ref A). French police or
Customs notify OCRTIS immediately whenever an AmCit drug
trafficking suspect is detained. OCRTIS then contacts the
DEA to verify whether the AmCit detainee is wanted on any
charges in the US and to coordinate the conduct of the
interrogation. The DEA in turn typically contacts post's
consular section. In these cases, even though it is not an
official notification, post receives prompt information
about the AmCit's detention thanks to DEA's special working
relationship with OCRTIS.


7. OCRTIS interrogates prisoners during the "Garde a Vue"
period. During the interrogation, an AmCit drug trafficking
suspect is commonly offered the opportunity to cooperate
with OCRTIS and the DEA. If the suspect provides useful
information, his sentence will typically be cut in half.
Suspected traffickers who choose not to cooperate do so most
often because they fear retaliation from drug cartels to
themselves or their families. A prisoner should not expect
to go to trial any sooner because of his cooperation since
there is currently no judicial "fast track" mechanism for
alleged drug traffickers in the French justice system.

8. After a prisoner is taken out of "Garde a Vue" and
brought before a judge, he will either be charged with a
crime or released. If charged, the case is turned over to
an Investigating Magistrate or "Juge d'Instruction." At
this point, according to French law a foreign prisoner must
be assigned an interpreter if he does not understand French.
A Detention Magistrate or "Juge de la Detention" will
oversee a detainee's transfer to jail pending the
investigation and trial. French law does not allow bail for
prisoners pending trial for drug trafficking charges meaning
that they will remain in custody until their trial date.

9. AmCit prisoners arrested for drug trafficking go to
trial on average 14-20 months after their arrest. Prisoners
should anticipate at least a yearlong wait and as with all
AmCit prisoners in France, expect very little information
regarding the status of an eventual trial date. Accused
drug traffickers may not plead guilty to receive an
immediate sentence. However, France has recently
implemented an instrument to plead guilty for misdemeanor
crimes that may eventually be broadened to such felonies as
drug trafficking. The idea is to ease the severe backlog of
prisoners awaiting trial, meaning that it could also
eventually help bring to trial more quickly even those who
choose not to plead guilty.


10. The maximum sentence possible for drug trafficking is
20 years. Though drug trafficking sentences in France will
depend on such circumstances as type and quantity of drugs,
cooperation, function in the trafficking organization and
history of trafficking, the average sentence in 25 drug
related cases at post dating back to 1996 was four years.
The minimum and maximum sentences were respectively one and
18 years.

11. An Executive Sentencing Magistrate or "Juge
d'Application des Peines" handles early release and
probation issues. Once a prisoner has served half of his
sentence, he may appear before a parole board or "Commission
d'Application des Peines" to have his case reviewed for
early release. The commission takes into account such
factors as behavior, learning French, working, job offers
and places to stay upon release. In 22 drug related cases
dating back to 1996, prisoners served on average less than
60 percent of their sentences.

12. Convicted drug traffickers who gain early release are
also subject to heavy customs' fines relative to the value
of the drugs they were trafficking. Their release may be
delayed because of this. The fines can be negotiated
downward or the prisoner may not have to pay at all if he
can prove total destitution. Customs has the final say on
this and the prisoner may have to serve up to an additional
two years if he does not or cannot pay.

13. Upon release, an AmCit prisoner is deported to his last
verified US residence or the nearest port of entry if he is
not a French resident or national. Certain exceptions are
made for drug traffickers who have cooperated with
authorities and whose lives would be in danger if they
returned to the US.
14. An AmCit arrested and tried in France for drug
trafficking may be prosecuted upon his return to the United
States if he has also violated any US laws. This is most
common for prisoners who have not cooperated with the DEA
and OCRTIS. DEA and OCRTIS interrogators often use the
threat of a second prosecution and sentence as a "hammer" to
help get cooperation from suspected drug traffickers.

15. Cooperation does not guarantee immunity from eventual
prosecution in the US. This is handled on a case-by-case
basis and depends on the information provided. Prisoners
are not tried upon repatriation from France if their crime
has no venue in the US.


16. Post previously reported on its efforts to receive more
regular notification from French prisons (Ref C). The
results of these efforts have been successful in that we
have not had any further problems with the specific prisons
with which we have raised this issue. Yet because
notification by prisons inevitably takes longer than 72
hours from the moment an AmCit is detained, post is now
examining the process by which the GOF implements the VCCR
and our BCC. In an effort to receive better notification
without delay, post has developed the following action plan,
which we present to the Department for its information:

- Consular officers will meet with their working-level
contacts in the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and
the Justice Department to determine the GOF's legal
interpretation of "detention" and "without delay" as stated
in the VCCR and BCC. Specifically, post will attempt to
learn whether customs detentions and "Garde a Vue" fall into
the GOF's interpretation of "detention" and how long they
give themselves to notify us of an AmCit arrest "without

- After learning the GOF's interpretation of the VCCR, post
will investigate how the GOF instructs its law enforcements
agencies to implement the interpretation. We will then take
specific actions based on what we learn. For example, if
there is no GOF directive instructing law enforcement
agencies and prisons on how to implement the convention, we
will seek to have the GOF create one. If there is a GOF
directive that law enforcement agencies and prisons are not
properly adhering to, we will work with the GOF and the
specific agencies to ensure proper implementation in the
case of AmCit arrests.

- Specifically regarding drug trafficking arrests, the
OCRTIS chief of operations expressed in a meeting with
conoff that he agreed that the meaning of "detention" in the
VCCR included the "Garde a Vue" period. However, he did not
wish to receive a directive from the GOF stipulating arrest
notification procedures to all VCCR signatories during the
"Garde a Vue" period. We suggested a simple arrangement
could be for OCRTIS to provide consular notification through
a simple phone call directly to the consular section to
supplement the arrest information we receive through the
DEA. We will meet with OCRTIS again to follow up on this
possible arrangement and reinforce our contact with them.

- Post will also schedule meetings with Customs officials to
explore circumstances where they could provide consular
notification of detained AmCits. We will suggest an
arrangement where they could contact us upon an AmCits
detention to verify his citizenship in an effort to further
combat passport fraud and provide us the quickest
notification possible of AmCit detention.


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