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Senegalese Criminal Justice System
February 18, 2018

Disclaimer: The information in this circular relating to the legal requirements of Senegal is provided for general information only and may contain minor inaccuracies. Questions involving interpretation of Senegalese law should be addressed to Senegalese counsel.

One of the most essential tasks of the Department of State and of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to U.S. citizens incarcerated or arrested abroad. In accordance with both international and Senegalese law, we are committed to ensuring incarcerated and arrested Americans are afforded due process under local laws and receive treatment consistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights.

Senegalese law enforcement includes both the Police and the Gendarmerie. The Police Force, comparable to municipality police forces in the U.S., is comprised of 10 departments commanded by the Directorate General of National Safety within the Ministry of Interior. In each of the country’s 11 regions, police have at least 1 police station and at least 1 mobile safety brigade. Dakar has more than 15 police stations, which are spread throughout the city.

The Gendarmerie is roughly synonymous with both the State Police and Federal Marshals in the U.S., and is part of the Ministry of Defense. Whether arrested by the police in Dakar or the Gendarmerie in outlying areas, the judicial process is similar.

Although the Senegalese Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the law also grants the police broad powers to detain prisoners for lengthy periods of time before filing formal charges. Police officers may hold suspects without filing formal charges for up to 48 hours after arrest, up to 96 hours if authorized by a public prosecutor, and up to 192 hours in cases involving threats to state security.  During the first 48 hours of detention, the accused has no access to an attorney but has the right to a medical exam and possible access to family. The accused has the right to an attorney after this initial period of detention at his/her own expense. When the case is presented to the prosecutor, the prosecutor can also demand a medical examination and will appoint legal counsel for the indigent. Bail is possible but is rarely used. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be present in court, confront witnesses, present evidence, have an attorney, and be tried in public trials.

Once arraigned by a public prosecutor, offenses are divided into three categories. Contraventions carry a maximum penalty of 1-month incarceration. Delits have a sentence of incarceration of greater than 1 month but less than 10 years. Crimes carry a possible sentence greater than 10 years.

If You Are Arrested

If you are arrested or detained, it is important to cooperate with all Senegalese law enforcement officials. While formal arrest and detainment authority rests with relatively senior officers who have been granted La Qualité d’Officier de Police Judiciare, all Senegalese law enforcement officials have the authority to challenge suspicious activity and to request personal identification.  Be aware that they may request personal identification even without cause, which is generally not the case in the United States.  Even though someone might consider their activity harmless or question the rationale for their detainment, it is important to remember that a junior official’s request for identification can lead to a situation where a more senior officer with La Qualité d’Officier de Police Judiciare authorizes an uncooperative or belligerent suspect detained for up to 48-hours without filing formal charges.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which both the U.S. and Senegalese Governments are parties, American citizens who are arrested or detained must be advised of the right to have their consular officials notified. American consular officials are entitled access to American citizens in detention, and are entitled to provide consular assistance. If you would like to speak with a consular officer, be persistent but not aggressive in your request that a consular officer be notified immediately. Note how many times and when you requested that a consular officer be notified.

The Senegalese legal system is complicated and difficult to navigate without a Senegalese attorney. You should consider hiring an attorney as soon as possible after an arrest. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of attorneys in Senegal.