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CRIME

What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?

It’s a situation nobody ever wants to be in, but what if you’re arrested in Italy? Here's an overview of your rights and what you should do if this happens to you.

What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?
An Italian Carabinieri Police officer (L) stands guard at the limit of St. Peter's Square, Vatican. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

Most people come to Italy to enjoy the weather, food, and relaxed lifestyle. Very few come to break the law, but there’s always a chance you could find yourself in trouble with the Italian police whether through misunderstanding or misdemeanour. 

Pray it never happens but if you are arrested while in Italy, what are your rights? What happens next, and who can help you?

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Italy

Whether it’s a road traffic violation, a minor offence or a more serious charge, here’s what you need to know about Italian legal processes upon arrest. 

The Italian system

Italian legal procedures may slightly differ from those in your home country, but just like in most Western countries, the Italian judiciary is independent from the government and all foreign nationals have the same rights (and face the same laws) as citizens.

Rights upon arrest

Upon your arrest, you will be orally informed of your rights, which, in short, are the following: 

You have the right to appoint a lawyer of your choice. If for any reason you cannot find a lawyer, the police will ask the local bar association to produce a state-appointed lawyer (difensore di ufficio). In Italy it is mandatory to have a lawyer when facing criminal charges. 

You also have the right to inform your family and your consulate of your arrest.

Keep in mind that, in case you’re caught and arrested in the act of committing a crime (un reato) or immediately after committing a crime, you do not have the right to know the allegations held against you until the udienza di convalida, a judicial hearing for the validation of your arrest (this must take place within four days of the arrest).

In all other circumstances, you will be served an arrest warrant (mandato), which must include an overview of the allegations.

Legal representation

You are entitled to representation by a lawyer (avvocato) during all stages of the criminal proceedings against you.

You can find contact details for Italian lawyers through the Albo Nazionale Avvocati (National Lawyers Register). Alternatively, you may also reach out to your consulate and ask to be given the contact information of lawyers suited to your case.

As previously mentioned, if you can’t find a lawyer, a defense counsel will automatically be appointed by the police or by the court from a list of lawyers provided by the local bar association.

READ ALSO: Guardia di Finanza to Carabinieri – who does what in the Italian police force? 

Please note that, if you are not under arrest but merely under investigation, you cannot be interviewed by the police in the absence of your lawyer. Any evidence gathered during an unlawful interview will be stricken as inadmissible at trial.

Conversely, if you are under arrest, the interview can only be conducted by a judge or a prosecutor. In such a case, your lawyer must be informed of the interview but their attendance is not mandatory.

Trial of two US teenagers in Rome

Lawyer Massimo Ferrandino takes the floor during a high-profile criminal proceeding in Rome on July 22nd 2020. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / POOL / AFP.

Legal aid

As of January 2021, if you are earning less than €11,746.68 (approximately £9960 or $12,511) per year, you are entitled to apply for legal aid.

If your application is successful, your lawyer of choice will be paid in full by the state at the end of your proceedings.

In order to apply for legal aid, non-EU citizens need to produce an official statement validated by their consulate and indicating their personal yearly income.

Translators

If you do not have a good command of Italian, you should be provided with an interpreter for any stage of the proceedings where your presence is required. The service will be free of charge.

While you are entitled to a translator, you don’t have the right to ask that any evidence against you be translated into your mother tongue. 

Interrogation

Whether you’re being questioned by the police, a prosecutor or a judge, you should know that anything you say can be used against you during your trial. 

As a result, it is advisable that you consult your lawyer prior to answering any question.

Pre-trial detention & bail

Your pre-trial detention or other conditions imposed on your freedom are decided by the judge in camera di consiglio, ie. not in an open court.

The length of your pre-trial detention period depends on the nature of your alleged offence.

For instance, for minor offences, you cannot be detained for more than six months prior to your trial. Keep in mind that, by Italian law, if your trial at the first instance doesn’t end within 18 months of your detention, you must be released.

Local police officers standing outside Milan’s San Vittore prison. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Defendants who are granted bail (libertà provvisoria) are free to go back to their home country unless the judge has imposed conditions that would make it impossible to do so (for instance, the confiscation of one’s passport).

Any breach of the relevant bail conditions generally results in the application of harsher measures, such as restraining orders (ordinanze restrittive), house arrest (arresti domiciliari) or custody.

Note that the judge’s decisions regarding a defendant’s freedom prior to the start of their trial can be challenged by applying for a judicial review at the Tribunale della Libertà (Freedom Tribunal).

Rights while in custody

All prisoners have a number of rights, including the right to security, healthcare and sustenance. Detainees also have a right to unlimited mail correspondence, six one-hour-long visits per month (no more than three visitors are allowed at a single time) and one 10-minute phone call per week.

Foreign nationals can request to receive the Charter of Rights (Carta dei diritti e dei doveri dei detenuti e degli internati) in their own language. The English-language version is available here.

All detainees who believe that their rights may have been violated can reach out to their regional ombudsman and request intervention.

Bear in mind that ombudsmen have the authority to set up meetings with detainees and visit penitentiary centres without previous authorisation.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. If you find yourself under arrest in Italy, we suggest you contact your country’s consulate for advice.

For further information, please consult Fair Trials’ online resource hub and Prison Insider’s website. Other useful links are available below:

National Bar Council

Ministry of Justice

National Guarantor for the Rights of People Deprived of Liberty

Member comments

  1. Please correct me if I am incorrect on this point:

    In the case of a person with dual nationality, one of which is Italian, then while in Italy you are seen *only* as an Italian citizen and the consulate of your other nationality can not / will not intervene on your behalf.

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CHRISTMAS

Seven of Italy’s most enchanting Christmas markets in 2022

Here are some of the most magical Christmas markets taking place in Italy this year.

Seven of Italy's most enchanting Christmas markets in 2022

After two years of pandemic cancellations and restrictions, Italy’s Christmas markets will be back in full swing this festive season.

While the energy crisis means some towns are cutting back on lighting and limiting the hours of operation, there’s still plenty of magic to be found.

Whether your focus is on sipping mulled wine surrounded by snow-topped mountains, riding a ferris wheel, sampling German sausages or marvelling at light displays, Italy has something for everyone.

Without further ado, here are some of the country’s best Christmas markets in 2022.

Bolzano

One of Italy’s longest-running Christmas markets, the festive extravaganza in Bolzano’s Piazza Walther is also said to be the country’s largest, with around 80 stalls selling a variety of traditional handicrafts and local treats.

Resting at the foot of the snow-capped Dolomites, Bolzano’s pre-WWI history and proximity to the Austrian border means the city is steeped in Germanic influences, with a number of citizens speaking German as their first language.

This gives Bolzano’s Christmas market a German twist; expect to be offered candied fruit, apple strudel, cinnamon-spiced mulled wine and other alpine delights as you browse its chalet huts.

When? Until January 6th

Christmas balls on display in Bolzano's Christmas market.

Christmas balls on display in Bolzano’s Christmas market. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Trento

While it hasn’t been running for quite as long as neighbouring Bolzano’s, Trento’s Christmas market has become almost as popular, with new stalls added every year.

Just like Bolzano, Trento is surrounded by maintains, which means you can take in views of stunning white peaks as you wander the old town’s cobbled streets warming your hands on a cup of vin brulè.

As usual, the market will be spread across Piazza Battisti and Piazza Fiera; the Trento city council has also published a calendar of key events happening every day as part of the city’s festive offering.

This year Trento’s Christmas market will have a ‘green’ focus – the use of clean energy, edible bread plates and recycled paper are all part of the concerted effort to limit the event’s environmental impact.

When? Until January 8th

Trento's Christmas market has grown rapidly in recent years.

Trento’s Christmas market has grown rapidly in recent years. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP.

Milan

Throughout the month of December and into January, Milan’s Piazza del Duomo plays host to the city’s Christmas market, with almost 80 wooden huts popping up all over the main square.

Those who want to see Milan at its most Christmassy, however, will want to wait for the “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” (“How beautiful! How beautiful!” in local dialect) festive fair held in the area surrounding the city’s castle, Castello Sforzesco.

This sprawling, centuries-old market is held to coincide with the Feast of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan’s patron saint, and is expected to take place as usual from December 7th-10th.

As a result of the energy crisis, Milan will turn on its Christmas lights two weeks later than usual this year, on December 7th – so you might want to time your visit accordingly if you want to witness the city’s illumination.

When? December 1st until January 6th (Piazza del Duomo market)

People walk across a Christmas market in downtown Milan as snow falls on December 8, 2021.

People walk across a Christmas market in downtown Milan as snow falls on December 8, 2021. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Cernobbio, Como

Lake Como’s roving ‘Città dei balocchi‘ or ‘Toytown’ Christmas fair this year moves to Cernobbio, where visitors can expect to find the town’s Villa Erba park transformed into a winter wonderland.

Fairytale characters, singing trees and a talking tower will greet adults and children who enter the park, with admission free to all.

Festivities are due to kick off at 5pm on December 7th with the opening of Magic Light festival, a mesmerising light display with projections of moving images.

On December 8th – Italy’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which for many in Italy signals the start of the festive period – light displays on Cernobbio’s tree and in the old town will be switched on, heralding the arrival of Christmas.

When? December 7th until January 8th

Florence

Florence has a range of Christmas markets, but the largest and best-known is the one on Piazza Santa Croce in front of the beautiful Santa Croce Basilica.

It’s run by the organisers of the Heidelberger Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany, which means you can expect authentic bratwurst, stollen, Glühwein, lebkuchen biscuits and German beer, as well as Austrian, Dutch, Hungarian, Polish, French and Italian treats.

This one closes a full week before Christmas, so if you’re planning an Italy Christmas markets tour you might want to make Florence your first stop.

When? Until December 18th

Florence's Christmas market is German-themed.

Florence’s Christmas market is German-themed. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

Verona

Like Florence, Verona’s Christmas market is a collaboration with that of a German city; in this case, Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt.

At the main market on Piazza dei Signori you can expect to find sauerkraut, potatoes and German sausage, as well as fried donuts made with ricotta and coated in chocolate.

In addition to those on main square, the market stalls – which this year number some 100 huts – will fill Cortile del Mercato Vecchio and stretch intro surrounding squares and streets.

This year’s festive offering includes a Santa Claus house, a children’s train, two skating rinks, and a range of musical events.

Be sure to look out for the city’s famous 70m-high, 82m-long illuminated shooting star sculpture in Piazza Bra – installed in November and dismantled in January every year since 1984, the sight has become central to the Veronese Christmas experience.

When? Until December 26th

Salerno

Ensuring that Italy’s northern and central regions don’t get all of the glory, the Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) display in Salerno draws visitors from all over the world to this small city just east of the Amalfi coast.

This illuminated open-air exhibition runs the length of the main shopping street, up to the Christmas tree on Piazza Portanova, through the medieval city centre and up to the Villa Comunale public gardens.

Salerno’s Christmas market stalls occupy a stretch of the seafront, and this year will run from December 3rd-25th.

Accompanying the event will be a 55m-high ferris wheel, two jazz concerts, and a Santa Claus house (from December 10th to January 7th).

When? December 2nd until January 31st; Christmas market stalls December 3rd-25th.

The Luci d’artista lights display in Salerno attracts visitors from all over the world.

The Luci d’artista lights display in Salerno attracts visitors from all over the world. Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP.
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