UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested in China last week on suspicion of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou. President Trump claims their fast release from custody stems from his having personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to intervene in the case.
Whether President Trump was or was not responsible for the quick release of these three players (I am convinced he was), these arrests raise the issue of what those without presidential connections should do when similarly arrested in China. We recommend the following:
1. Contact your Nearest Embassy or Consulate. Your first step should usually be to contact your nearest embassy or consulate, but recognize it will be limited in the assistance it can provide. Foreigners arrested in China are subject to Chinese laws, not the laws of their own country. This should be obvious, but not everyone knows this.
Your embassy or consulate should be able to help you with the following:
a. Providing you with a list of local attorneys who speak your native language
b. Contact your family, friends or employer
c. Visit you in jail and provide you with reading materials and maybe food.
d. Monitor your situation in jail and help ensure that you are being treated appropriately.
e. Provide you with an overview of the local criminal justice process
2. Hire a Local Criminal Attorney. You will need a local attorney. This means if you are arrested in Qingdao you need a Qingdao criminal lawyer and not a Shanghai one. China has many terrific criminal lawyers and they usually require relatively low upfront flat fees to take on a new matter for a new client. This means it is usually relatively easy to find a good and cheap Chinese criminal lawyer, but few speak English.
It is absolutely critical you get a good local criminal lawyer as quickly as possible. Far too often when our China lawyers get contacted regarding a criminal law situation in China, the detainee or the detainee’s friends or family believe that because the arrest was a “mistake” no lawyer is needed. Some claim they do not need a lawyer because they or someone they know has sufficient guanxi to handle the arrest lawyer-free. Even if these people are right (and they pretty much never are), it still behooves them to get a good local criminal lawyer immediately.
No ifs ands or buts: if you are arrested in China, you need a local criminal lawyer and fast.
How do you find such a lawyer? That depends. By way of an example, one of our China lawyers was recently retained to find a criminal lawyer in a small Chinese city. This lawyer immediately emailed all of the China lawyers in our firm and we all emailed our China lawyer contacts in various cities to ask for the names of recommended Chinese criminal lawyers in this small Chinese city. The client ended up hiring a lawyer who was mentioned multiple times by the Chinese lawyers we know.
3. Contact Family and Friends but Keep Them Quiet
Sometimes you want your family and friends on the outside to scream up and down about your arrest, but most of the time that is the worst strategy possible. It is generally a good idea not to publicize your case unless your local criminal lawyer instructs you to do so. China is not going to release you because your hometown newspaper is saying you are being held unfairly and publicizing the unfairness of your arrest might just cause the local prosecutor or court to double down. But see here for a case where our law firm did our utmost to generate bad publicity for the arresting country.
4. Hire an Attorney in Your Home Country (Sometimes)
Our China attorneys get contacted by arrested Westerners maybe ten times a year. If the matter is something like a shoplifting arrest, we usually do little more than provide our client with a few tips and find them a good local criminal lawyer and sometimes good local translator.
But in some cases we do considerably more. By way of one example, our firm a few years ago represented an American charged by China with massive financial fraud. We stayed involved in this case from its beginning through sentencing (note that more than 99 percent of those charged with a crime in China end up being convicted). For this client we did the following:
- Found him a top-tier criminal lawyer. This lawyer did not speak Chinese and so we often served as the intermediary.
- We often served as an intermediary with the US Consulate.
- We would communicate with the detainee’s family in the United States
- We gathered up key mitigating documents from the United States and from other countries outside China.
- Perhaps most importantly, we explained China’s legal system to the detainee and his family and, in particular, the huge benefits of admitting guilt and setting up a procedure to reimburse those harmed by the crime and a rehabilitation plan. We also explained China’s sentencing and early release laws and the importance/benefit of reimbursing the victims so as to get a sentence term that allowed for early release.
Bottom Line: If you or someone you know are arrested in China, take it very seriously and act quickly.