Your loved one has been arrested, and you want to help, but you don’t
know how. What should you do? Who should you call? What should
you say (or not say)? In the urgency of the moment, it is hard not
to panic. We can help. This list outlines steps you can take to assist and
comfort your loved one in the immediate aftermath of an arrest.
If you are present at the time of the arrest
Always be respectful to the police. They are public employees with difficult jobs. While they are used to dealing with difficult people, mistreating them will never make anyone’s case better. While it is not illegal to ask them questions, you may be impeding their ability to do their jobs. If you do anything that delays the performance of their duties, even for a moment, you yourself could be arrested and charged with resisting or delaying a peace officer. Most officers are willing to provide basic information when questioned politely.
Encourage your loved ones and associates to be polite. Police officers are human beings who, like the rest of us, may be more critical of people they don’t like. Police officers who are angry or under stress make worse decisions and may overlook evidence that helps your loved one or friend. This is especially in cases involving alleged violence or aggression. It is not helpful when your friend or family member claims they were peaceful and calm during an incident when they were aggressive or combative with police officers.
It is also unhelpful to be rude or demeaning to police officers if you may be witness. Your own attitude and words will be written down or recorded. Jurors are much more willing to give credit to information they receive from people they see as neutral and calm observers.
Confirm the arrest.
First, ask the officers if your loved one is free to go. If your friend or family member is not free to leave, ask if he has been arrested or is simply being detained. If your loved one has been arrested, ask why. If the arrest was made pursuant to a warrant, inquire as to what jurisdiction issued the warrant and what the bond amount is. Ask the officers where your loved one will be booked, and where you can bond him out. If the charge is a misdemeanor, the arresting officer may be able to tell you exactly how much the bond will be, and where it can be posted. In some cases your loved one may qualify for a recognizance or signature bond, meaning he will be released from jail after he goes through booking procedures, without having to post any money bond.
Try to obtain the name of the arresting agency, and the name of the arresting officer or officers. Note the time, date, and location of the arrest. Write it all down, so you won’t forget. This information can be very useful in locating your loved one in the local jail system, and these facts could be relevant to future court motions challenging the validity of the arrest.
Reassure your loved one or friend.
If you are able to communicate with your loved one before they are taken the to the station, advise them not to answer any questions that go beyond routine booking questions like name and date of birth. Reassure them that you will make attempts to bond them out of custody as soon as possible, and that you will help him obtain a qualified criminal defense attorney.
Make sure that your phone is charged and turned on and that you have it with you. Once at the jail, your loved one should be allowed to make a phone call; if they are moved to a new facility, they again should be allowed to make one phone call. It is difficult or impossible to return a phone call if you miss it.
When your friend or loved one calls from jail
Don’t ask for details about what happened.
This is critical because nearly all police stations and jails record these phone calls and the prosecutor will definitely get a copy of the recording. Do not ask about the circumstances leading up to and surrounding your friend or loved one’s arrest. This is not the time to scold them or for them to make excuses. Remind your friend or loved one that the call is probably being recorded and the jail has many snitches. Tell them it is best for them not to discuss their case with anyone but a criminal defense attorney.
Get their location.
Ask where your friend or loved one is being held. Get the name and address (if possible) of the facility and write this information down. If they know their booking number, write that down too.
Your friend or loved one will probably be scared and desperate to get out of custody. Stay calm. Reassure them that they are not lone and that they will not be abandoned. Let them know that you will work to get them out of custody as soon as possible and that you will help find a lawyer to help them. Remind them that talking or arguing about their case is pointless and will probably be used against them. It is better If they wait until a criminal defense lawyer is hired or for the court to appoint a public defender if they cannot afford one.
Urge them to remain silent.
You have probably noticed a recurring them: tell your loved one to remain silent. They must not discuss their case with anyone while in custody until they meet with their lawyer. Many people in jail are there because they are unscrupulous and will not hesitate to be a snitch to get an advantage in their own case. A lot of these snitches will even make up stories about things your friend or loved one told them in confidence about their case—this information is never helpful to the defense. Understand though, that it is very difficult for your friend or loved one to stay quiet, especially if they are interrogated while in custody. Help them by telling them exactly what to say: “I don’t want to answer any questions; I want to talk to a lawyer.”
Contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Don’t delay. Your friend or loved one has a lot at stake and they need a criminal defense lawyer on their side as soon as possible.It is very important that you inform your loved one’s attorney exactly where your friend or loved one is being held. Depending on the situation, the defense attorney you have hired may rush to the facility and demand to speak with his client.Police officers are generally required to inform detained suspects that their lawyer has arrived and wants to talk to them. This may be crucial in disrupting an interrogation and can help your friend or loved one gain the advantage in their case.
If you hear about the arrest from a third party
Locate your friend or loved one.
You may be able to locate your loved one using your local government’s website. Commercial inmate locators are a waste of money. Note that it will take some time for the computer system to be updated. You may call your local law enforcement’s non-emergency line to help in locating your friend or family member. Have as much information as possible, including his full
name with correct spelling and AKAs, and date of birth. You can also look up the number for your county jail and call there directly; ask to speak with the booking department. If your loved one is being housed a local precinct, it is helpful if know where the arrest took place, when the arrest occurred, and your loved one’s current address.
Dealing with bail or bond issues
Find out what the specific charge(s) are.
Find out what the criminal charge is with as much specificity as possible. Your loved one may have a written document called a charging instrument with the exact name of the alleged crime and specific code section. If you speak with officers at the scene or the jail, they may also be willing to provide you with the exact criminal statute.
Think carefully before contacting a bail bond agency!
If your loved one is being held on a high money bond, you may consider contacting a bail bondsman. These are individuals and businesses who lend money to people for the purposes of posting bond. However, there are real
financial and physical risks associated with bail bond agencies. If at all possible, talk to a criminal defense attorney about your other options first, before you make the call to a bondsman. Be sure to let your bail bond agency know if your friend or loved one has hired a private attorney. Some bail bond agencies will give a small discount if they know the defendant has made a significant investment required to hire an experienced attorney.
When posting bond be aware that you may be required to pay an additional fee. Most county jails have a bond out window located somewhere in the administrative section of the building. Note that you should think of bond as a gift to your friend or loved one. Do not plan on getting that money back. Bond may be forfeited for failure to appear at future court dates; it may be assigned your loved one’s attorney; or it may be used to pay your
loved one’s fines and court costs. If there is any bond left over after the resolution of the case, it will be refunded to the person who posted the bond, less an administrative fee.
Arrange a ride.
Don’t forget to arrange a ride for your friend upon their release on bond. Many police stations and county jails are not located in the safest neighborhoods, and your loved one may be released in the middle of the night.
Don’t neglect day-to-day needs.
If your loved one is unable to post bond, they may need your help making necessary arrangements. For example, you will want to provide the jail (or your defense attorney) with all of your loved one’s prescriptions and medications. Also, you may want to contact your loved one’s school, work, or community organizations to inform them of future absences. Make certain that things like rent or utilities do not go unpaid while your loved one is incarcerated.
Make sure your loved one has a system for remembering court dates.
Missing a court date can spell disaster for your friend or loved one. A failure to appear can result in your friend or loved one being re-arrested. They will be subject to a bail increase if they can even get bail at all. The prosecutor may pursue additional charges. If your friend or loved one has a smart phone that was not seized by police, they should use a calendar app to record all of their court dates and can usually set up alarms and reminders. If they don’t have a smart phone, an inexpensive paper calendar or planner can usually be found at the office supply store for a few dollars. Make sure they are in the habit of writing down their court dates and that they check it regularly.
Arrange a ride.
The judge and prosecutor will not be persuaded to help your friend or loved one if they missed court because they don’t have a ride. Judges and prosecutors always think it is your friend or loved one’s responsibility to arrange to get to court. They will expect them to have cab or bus fare if they don’t have a car, and they’ll expect them to catch their cab or bus early enough to arrive at court on time. If they will rely on a friend for a ride, make sure that their ride is trustworthy, punctual, and has a vehicle that is reliable.
If they miss their ride or get sick, make sure they call their criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so the attorney can let the court know. If they can’t reach their lawyer, have them call the clerk in the courtroom and let them know (briefly!) that nature of the problem (e.g., missed bus, car broke down, etc.) and their estimated time of arrival—the sooner, the better.