Legal issues and attorney list
Last update: April 8, 2016
When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The Embassy cannot provide legal advice or assistance. However, the Consular Section can provide a list of local attorneys who may be able to assist you in legal matters.
Romania - Legal Information
Updated October 2011
Romania is an independent, sovereign country. One of the chief attributes of sovereignty is the right of a country to make and enforce laws within its own borders. Just as in America, the government has the internationally recognized right to try foreigners as well as its own nationals within its territory.
Anyone who breaks the law in Romania is subject to prosecution under the Romanian legal system. If a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a Romanian court, this sentence will be served in a Romanian prison.
The following information can be used as a general guideline for what one can expect if arrested or charged with a criminal offense in Romania and should not be considered a substitute for the professional services of a local attorney. It is important to understand that the U.S. Constitution is not in effect outside the boundaries of the United States. If arrested in Romania, an individual is subject to the laws and regulations of Romania. The Embassy strongly suggests that you acquire the services of a local attorney if you are arrested. Please see our list of private attorneys in Romania who speak English above. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Romanian government is legally obligated to provide you with an attorney who can communicate with you in your native language.
Romania has a civil law system based on Roman law and the Napoleonic Code. Because the criminal justice system in Romania is quite different from the constitutionally-modified system rooted in English Common Law which exists in the United States, an American arrested in Romania should expect significant differences in legal proceedings. For example in Romania there is no jury and the trials, civil or criminal, are bench trials ending with a verdict issued by the judge.
The main legal provisions applied to criminal cases in Romania can be found in the Romanian Constitution (Articles 15, 19, 22, 23, 27, 42, 44, 53, 72, 73, 74, 94, 96, 109, 128, 131 and 132), Romanian Criminal Code, Romanian Criminal Procedure Code and Law 302/2004 on international judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Initial Arrest: The law provides that any person detained or arrested shall be informed promptly in a language he/she understands of the grounds for his/her detention or arrest and shall be notified of the charges against him/her, as soon as practicable (Article 23 of the Romanian Constitution). Arrestees have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney as they would in the United States; however, there is no law requiring Romanian authorities to state these rights to an individual at the time of their arrest.
Preventive Detention or Custody: Pretrial detention in Romania is divided into two categories: preventive detention, for a maximum of 24 hours (Article 144 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code) and preventive custody, which may be ordered by the judge at the request of the prosecutor. Habeas Corpus (a writ requiring that a person be brought before a court to determine whether they have been detained legally) does not exist in Romania. A suspect is brought before the court when the prosecutor requests the issuance of a preventive custody order. The judge will set a hearing for the suspect held in preventive detention within the 24-hour time frame and will hear the testimony of the suspect in the presence of his/her lawyer and the prosecutor. After the hearing, the judge will decide whether to admit or deny the prosecutor’s request.
If the prosecutor’s request is admitted, the judge will sign a preventive custody order for up to 30 days. The suspect can appeal the judge’s decision within 24 hours. The duration of preventive custody may be subsequently extended by the court. Each extension must be limited to 30 days and the total period of preventive custody cannot exceed 180 days.
A person under preventive custody has the right to apply for provisional or temporary release under judicial control or on bail (Article 23 of the Romanian Constitution). Temporary release under judicial control may be approved if the crime was committed without intent or the crime committed with intent is punishable by less than 12 years of imprisonment. Temporary release under judicial control cannot be granted if the suspect is a repeat offender or if there is indication that the suspect might take actions upon release that could hinder an investigation.
If the request for provisional custody is denied, the judge may decide to take other preventive measures, such as movement restrictions. The maximum duration of travel/movement restrictions during criminal investigation is one year. In certain cases, when the punishment provided by the law is 10 years imprisonment or more, the movement restrictions may extend to a maximum of two years.
Defense and Legal Assistance: The right to defense is stipulated in Article 24 of the Romanian Constitution and Articles 6 and 171 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code. Any person accused of a crime has the right not to make any statement, the right to question other defendants, third parties, witnesses, and/or experts, and the right to provide explanations whenever appropriate during the trial (Articles 143 and 322 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code).
Every defendant is entitled to legal assistance provided by a lawyer (Article 171 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code). A suspect/defendant who does not know the language or cannot express himself/herself in the local language has the right to be assisted by an interpreter, regardless of his/her nationality (Article 8 of the Romanian Criminal Code).
Self Representation: Representation by legal counsel (lawyer) is mandatory when the suspect or defendant is a minor, when he/she is arrested or investigated in connection with more than one case, and when the prosecutor or the judge believes that the defendant is not able to represent himself/herself (art. 171 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code).
Legal assistance provided by a lawyer is also mandatory in any case in which the penalty provided by the law is imprisonment for more than five years (Article 171 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code).
Self representation is possible in any other situation except for those listed in Article 171 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Service of Process and Notification of Judicial Decisions (Subpoenas): Judicial notifications or decisions are delivered by a process server designated by the court to the defendant at his/her place of residence, or to the next-of-kin or another person who usually lives with the defendant or who usually receives his/her correspondence.
If the defendant is in custody, the judicial notifications are delivered through the administration of the penitentiary or detention center. If the defendant is in the military, the judicial notifications are delivered through the military unit commander. If the defendant is in a hospital or in another health institution, the judicial notifications are delivered through the hospital’s administration. When the defendant lives in a building with several apartments or in a hotel and none of the persons mentioned above can be found, the document can be handed to the administrator of the building, to the doorman, or to a person who usually replaces the administrator or the doorman.
If the suspect or defendant refuses to receive the document, the process server affixes it to the defendant’s door and writes up a report for the court. Judicial notifications cannot be delivered to a minor under the age of 14.
Fundamental Rights and Obtaining Evidence: A person’s domicile and residence are inviolable (Article 27 of the Constitution) without a court-issued warrant. Privacy of letters, telegrams and other postal communications, telephone conversations and other legal means of communication are inviolable (Article 27 of the Constitution of Romania) without a court-issued warrant. Evidence cannot be obtained with the use of violence, threats, or other constraints. Court-issued warrants are necessary for phone-tapping and mail interception, or to conduct the search of a location where consent is not given by a person in control of the object or property to be searched. While a domiciliary (i.e. home, car) search can be authorized only by the court after an investigation is initiated, a corporal (i.e. body) search may be authorized by the police investigator, the prosecutor or the judge. Domiciliary searches and removal of items of evidence can take place only in the presence of the suspect or defendant, a family member, or a neighbor who will act as a witness.
In emergency cases, when a delay would cause serious prejudice to the investigation, the prosecutor may issue a provisional warrant for interception of communication, but must request a warrant from the court within 24 hours. The court must rule within 24 hours either to issue a warrant or to deny the request and order destruction of any recordings already obtained by the prosecutor. If destruction of recordings is ordered, the court will also request that the suspect be informed in writing about the verbal or written communication that was intercepted and recorded.
Evidence illegally obtained may not be used in the course of the criminal trial. The defendant benefits from the presumption of innocence and is not obliged to prove his/her innocence (i.e. the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.)
Items submitted as evidence may include testimonies of the suspect or the defendant, testimonies of the victim or the civil party in the trial, testimonies of the witnesses, documents, audio or video recordings, photos, physical evidence, forensic findings and conclusions of the expert witnesses. The defendant has the right to attempt to prove the inconsistency of the evidence presented by the prosecution. During the criminal trial, the parties may enter additional items of evidence. The request to enter evidence cannot be rejected if the item is conclusive and useful. The approval or rejection of such a request must be decided and explained by the judge.
An expert opinion from a psychiatrist or psychologist is mandatory in cases of aggravated murder and whenever the criminal investigation body or the court doubts the defendant's mental competence.
Right to Judicial Protection: Access to justice is guaranteed by the Romanian constitution. Every person is entitled to bring cases before the courts (Article 27 of the Constitution of Romania).
Jurisdiction (Competence) of the Courts in Romania: Court jurisdiction determines which court system should properly adjudicate a case and is settled by subject matter, person or territory (Articles 25 - 29 of Romanian Criminal Procedure Code). Jurisdiction by subject matter divides the cases between lower and higher courts depending on the gravity of the offence. Jurisdiction by person determines the court where the case will be tried depending on the defendant’s official capacity (for example, regular courts or military courts). Jurisdiction by territory determines where the case will be tried based on the location where the crime was committed.
The High Court of Cassation and Justice is the highest court in Romania with jurisdiction over criminal matters. Special courts in Romania include the Military Tribunals and Military Court of Appeals.
Trial: Trials may take a few months to a few years. Nearly 90% of criminal trials end within six to twelve months and about 2% of the cases last between one and three years.
In Romania’s court system there is no jury and the trials, civil or criminal, are bench trials ending with a verdict issued by the judge. In a criminal trial, the victim of a crime may obtain damages from the perpetrator of the crime by participating in the trial as a civil party. A victim who did not become a civil party in a criminal case may file separately for compensation in a civil court. The civil court case will be suspended until the criminal trial has ended.
Normally, court hearings are public. However, upon request, the judge may declare the hearing or some part of it closed to the general public. The media is not allowed in courtrooms although outside the courtroom filming and photographing is permitted. In certain cases, the judge may allow the media to film or take photographs from the courtroom for one to three minutes before the beginning of a hearing. Public access in the courtroom is permitted 30 minutes before the hearing. All present in the courtroom must rise when the judge enters and leaves the room. Appropriate attire must be worn in the court room. It is forbidden to carry weapons or dangerous objects into a courtroom. Furthermore, it is forbidden to bring food or beverages into the courtroom, or to read newspapers or magazines during the court sessions. Attendees should maintain silence as well as respectful and courteous behavior.
Courts provide translation for parties or witnesses who do not speak Romanian. At the beginning of the hearing, the judge will confirm the presence of the witnesses, experts and interpreters, then will ask the witness to leave the courtroom until he/she is called back to testify. Expert witnesses are allowed to stay in the courtroom unless the judge decides otherwise. Witnesses, expert witnesses and interpreters may address the court or testify even if they were not subpoenaed to appear at the hearing after identifying themselves for the court.
Parties should only speak when the judge permits. The party addressing the court must stand. The petitioner makes the first statement in court, followed by the defendant, witnesses and expert witnesses. Witnesses first answer questions from the judge as posed by the prosecutor, then questions from the judge posed by the defense. Parties addressing the court must answer questions calmly and politely. There is no direct questioning by attorneys during examination or cross-examination. Questions must be addressed to the opposing party through the judge (“Mr./Mrs. President of the court, please ask the defendant/witness…”). The judge then addresses the party directly.
Sentencing: When the judge declares the trial over, the judge or judges will deliberate in their chamber to reach a sentence. If the judge needs more time to reach a decision, the sentencing may be postponed for a week. The sentence is read by the judge in a court hearing and is delivered to both parties in writing within 30 days from the date it was issued.
Appeals: The Romanian law provides for two consecutive phases of appeal that can be filed against a sentence or court decision. The first appeal can be brought for factual grounds (based on or restricted to facts) or legal grounds (motives related to legal provisions). The court decision pronounced in this first appeal can also be subject to a second appeal, but only for a limited number of legal grounds as provided by article 3859 of the Romanian Criminal Procedure Code. The appeal must be filed within 10 days, counted from the date when the convicted party was informed of the sentence, either by being present in court when the judge read the verdict or by receiving a copy of the sentence. The appeal hearing must be scheduled within three days of filing. The court of appeals has the discretion to retry the case in its entirety or remand the case to the lower court for retrial. If the accused is again found guilty, the sentencing takes place immediately.
Restriction of Rights: After sentencing, certain rights can be restricted as an accessory penalty. For Romanian citizens, the right to vote and be elected into public offices, or the right to carry out activities similar to those used by the convicted person to commit the offence, are prohibited while a prison sentence is being served (Article 71 of the Romanian Criminal Code). Parental rights and the right to be a guardian or a curator can be prohibited depending on the nature, seriousness and circumstances of the offence, or if it is determined by the court to be in the best interest of the child or the person under guardianship or trusteeship (article 71 of the Romanian Criminal Code).
European Arrest Warrants: European Arrest Warrants have been enforced in Romania since 2004 under provisions of Law 302 regarding international judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Mutual Legal Assistance: Romania provides legal assistance to authorities from the United States and countries of the European Union and allows the recognition by Romanian courts of EU judicial decisions (Law 302/2004 on international judicial cooperation in criminal matters).
Romania and the United States are parties to a bilateral extradition treaty, which states that: “an offense shall be an extraditable offense if it is punishable under the laws in both countries by deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year or by a more severe penalty.” Attempts or conspiracies to commit, or participation in the commission of any such offense also constitutes an extraditable offense. Where the request is for enforcement of the sentence of a person convicted of an extraditable offense, the deprivation of liberty remaining to be served must be at least four months.
Both countries may request the provisional arrest of a person sought pending presentation of the request for extradition and supporting documentation for up to 60 days from the date of provisional arrest.
Prisoner Transfer: A U.S. citizen convicted and incarcerated in Romania may apply for transfer to the United States in accordance with the provisions of the bilateral treaty. However, a prisoner is not eligible for transfer until the judgment and sentence in his/her case is final (i.e. when no appeals or collateral legal actions are pending.) The prisoner transfer treaty may require that fines imposed as part of the criminal sentence be paid prior to transfer. Depending on the provisions of the governing treaty, prisoners who are convicted of certain types of crimes (such as military offenses and political offenses) or who have less than a specified amount of time remaining on their sentences (normally six months or a year, depending on the treaty involved), are not eligible for transfer.
The transfer process begins with the prisoner notifying the U.S. Embassy that he/she wishes to be transferred under the treaty. Thereafter, the U.S. Department of Justice, in its discretion, determines whether a prisoner can transfer to the United States, pursuant to internal Guidelines for Evaluation of Prisoner Transfer Applications. If the U.S. Department of Justice concurs, the U.S. Embassy will contact the Romanian Foreign Ministry. The U.S. Embassy will also assist the prisoner in transmitting the necessary paperwork to the appropriate United States and Romanain government authorities. Should the prisoner's request for transfer be approved by both governments, a consent verification hearing (CVH) will be held, and arrangements will be made between the two governments for the prisoner's transfer at a time mutually agreeable to the respective governments.
Prison Conditions: According to the State Department’s Human Rights Report, prison conditions in Romania were harsh and often did not meet international standards. Sanitation and hygiene in prisons did not meet international standards. Medical facilities were not sufficient to care for all prisoners and detainees. Heating and hot water were not available in several facilities and lighting was poor. In many penitentiaries, prisoners complained about the insufficient availability of medications and medical treatment although this has not been a specific complaint by American prisoners.
Media and human rights organizations reported that the abuse of prisoners by authorities and other prisoners continued to be a problem; however, the Embassy has not received complaints about abuse by officials against an American prisoner. According to media reports, prisoners frequently assaulted and abused their fellow inmates and prison authorities tried to cover up such incidents. The government permitted prison visits by human rights observers, U.S. Embassy officials, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year. During the year, authorities improved conditions in some prisons. The U.S. Embassy has not received reports of discrimination against American prisoners based on their American nationality. Officials at the Romanian Ministry of the Interior as well as individual prison directors and police officials have been responsive to U.S. Embassy requests on behalf of American prisoners.
U.S. Embassy Role: After arresting an American citizen, Romanian officials will ask the arrestee if he/she would like the U.S. Embassy to be notified. By treaty obligation, this notification is supposed to take place as soon as possible; in practice, the Embassy normally receives notification within 24 to 48 hours. The Embassy strongly recommends that Americans request the Consular Section of the Embassy be notified immediately. A consular officer will attempt to reach the American by telephone within 24 hours of notification.
What the Embassy Can Do
- Visit an American in jail after being notified of the arrest to check on health and the treatment accorded you by the police;
- Provide a list of local English-speaking attorneys (you are responsible for paying any lawyers' fees).
- Make sure the police are aware of any medical conditions an individual may have (for example, diabetes, allergies, etc.), and request that you been seen by a doctor;
- Work with local authorities to ensure that your rights under Romanian law are fully observed, to include protesting any mistreatment or abuse;
- Supply you with English-language reading material subject to prison regulations;
- Notify your family and friends of your arrest;
- Relay requests for financial assistance provided you authorize the consul to do so.
What the Embassy Cannot Do
- Get an individual out of jail;
- Post bail;
- Accept custody of individuals;
- Guarantee an American’s appearance in court;
- Act as a legal advisor or pay legal fees.
The Embassy is required to gather certain information when we visit an incarcerated American. This information will only be provided to the U.S. Government and individuals that you explicitly authorize. We will not release any of your information without your express permission as mandated by the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974.
The U.S. Privacy Act
The Privacy Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-579) was enacted to protect U.S. citizens against unauthorized release of information about them by the government. If you want the Embassy to notify your family or friends about your arrest you must first give us written permission to do so.
The Embassy will not inform any person of your arrest without your permission. Even if your family or friends find out by other means, we will be unable to discuss your case with them without your permission. Although we routinely report to the Department of State in Washington on the condition of American prisoners in our consular district, the Department of State does not release this information to individuals without your permission.
These files are maintained primarily for the purpose of providing protection and assistance to American citizens abroad and not for law enforcement purposes. While there is no automatic or mandatory dissemination of information in consular files to other agencies, we can release specific information to other agencies that have a legitimate interest in such data. Therefore, for legitimate law enforcement purposes in the U.S., the appropriate law enforcement agency in the U.S. may be notified.
Nonetheless, American citizens arrested overseas are not liable for prosecution for the same crime upon their return to the U.S. unless they are also wanted for an offense committed in the U.S. Arrest records maintained by the Romanian government, however, are not bound by the restrictions of the Privacy Act.
We have no control over what information the Romanian police pass to their U.S. counterparts or to INTERPOL. It is possible that U.S. police agencies may have acquired more information about a prisoner from these sources than the Embassy or the Department of State in Washington has at its disposal.
Information for Dual Nationals: Individuals in Romania are subject to the laws and regulations of Romania. Romanian officials may not know that an individual with Romanian citizenship also has American citizenship unless that fact is made clear by the arrestee. In the past, Romanian authorities have been responsive about informing the Embassy when dual national Romanian-Americans were arrested.
(last updated: April 8, 2016)
The U.S. Embassy Bucharest, Romania assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the following persons or firms. Inclusion on this list is in no way an endorsement by the Department of State or the U.S. Embassy. Names are listed alphabetically, by location, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. The information in the list on professional credentials, areas of expertise and language ability are provided directly by the lawyers. You may receive additional information about the individuals by contacting the local bar association or the local licensing authorities.
Download attorney list
(.PDF File, 412 kb)
The website of the Romanian Bar Association is http://www.unbr.ro. The website provides links to county bars with contact information for their members.