Criminal Law in Thailand
The basic provisions of Thai criminal law are contained in the Thai Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. It is important to note that there are some key differences between the system of criminal law in Thailand and comparable systems in Western common law jurisdictions. If arrested or charged with a crime in Thailand, it is therefore important to not only engage an experienced Thai criminal trial lawyer, but one who can communicate these differences effectively in English.
The most significant differences are as follows:
- There is no jury system in Thailand.
- The death penalty applies to certain offences, including some drug related offences.
- Suspects can be held for 48 hours without charge by the police (longer if placed in the custody of the court).
- Suspects may apply for bail, but bail is granted significantly less frequently than in many Western jurisdictions.
- Criminal charges may be filed privately.
- Defamation is a criminal offence in Thailand (damages may also be claimed in a separate civil action).
- Thai criminal law is statute based and provides broad discretion to judges, without reference to a jury. While Supreme Court decisions are persuasive, they are not binding and Thailand, being a civil law jurisdiction, does not have the weight of case law common to many Western jurisdictions.
- The system does not provide for plea-bargaining or pleading guilty to a lesser charge, though pleading guilty may be a mitigating circumstance and lead to a lesser sentence.
It should be noted that Thailand is an INTERPOL member country and suspects in Thailand may be subject to INTERPOL notices. Thailand is also signatory to various extradition treaties and, in addition, has reciprocal extradition arrangements with a significant number of foreign jurisdictions. For more on this subject, see our section on Extradition in Thailand.
Rights of Suspects in Thailand
Suspects or alleged offenders have the following rights when arrested or detained in Thailand:
- The right to remain silent - We firmly recommend exercising this right. If you are arrested in Thailand, insist on your right to meet and consult with a lawyer in private. Do not provide any statement to the police and do not sign anything in the absence of a lawyer. You have a right to notify a person of your choice of your arrest and place of detention. Use that right to contact an experienced criminal lawyer at the first opportunity.
- You may have a right to access a consular representative under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
- The right to apply for bail – As discussed, bail is not frequently granted, particularly for more serious offences, but may be applied for by pledging bail collateral, often in the form of cash, bank passbooks, or land title deeds. In the case of foreign nations, it is common for the alleged offender’s passport to be retained as a condition of bail. Where the passport is not retained, a letter will be sent to the Immigration Office preventing the alleged offender from leaving Thailand without the permission of the court.
- The right to have a lawyer or other trusted person attend the interrogation at the investigative stage.
- The right to receive a reasonable amount of visits from or have contact with relatives.
- The right to prompt medical treatment when ill.
- The right to choose not to provide a statement – As discussed, we recommend you exercise this right until an experienced criminal lawyer is present. Any statement given can, and most likely will, be used as evidence against you in the court. You should never deal with the Thai police without a lawyer present if you are being interviewed as a suspect.
Note that upon arrest or detention, the Thai authorities have the right to inspect a foreign national’s passport. In the event the foreign national has entered Thailand legally, the permission to stay remains valid, and the offense is not related to the passport, the authorities do not have the right to retain the passport without a warrant or a court order.
Rights of Defendants in Thailand
Once the public prosecutor has filed a criminal complaint against the suspect or alleged offender in the court, the suspect becomes the defendant and the following rights apply:
- The right to be tried expeditiously and fairly.
- The right to retain a lawyer during the preliminary examination or trial before any court.
- The right to consult privately with a lawyer.
- The right to inspect the evidence and take copies of any evidence submitted.
- The right to inspect court files and take copies of those files.
- The right to inspect and obtain a copy of any statement provided during the investigation and any documents related to that statement.
Thai Criminal Defence Lawyer
Such rights notwithstanding, the Thai criminal justice system has a reputation for being deeply opaque and extremely difficult to navigate, particularly for foreign defendants. Having a highly experienced Thai criminal trial lawyer in your corner when defending criminal proceedings in Thailand is critical.
We are experts in criminal law and the unique challenges that accompany the defence of criminal charges against foreign defendants in Thailand. All the senior Thailand lawyers in our criminal litigation team are fluent in English, have years of trial experience, and a proven track record for advising and mounting successful defences in the following areas of criminal law:
- Serious Assault and Homicide
- Drug Charges
- Computer Crimes
If you have questions related to litigation, please check our Thailand Litigation FAQs page, or feel free to contact us.
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