A police officer tells you that are under arrest and asks you to place your hands behind your back so they could handcuff you. Or you get a cell phone call from a police officer, requesting that you come into their office to be arrested.
Your initial impression is numbness and shock. Then the feelings of panic and fear start to build inside of you. Your actions over the next couple of days will have a huge effect on your pending criminal case.
Your first thought: Holy !!@#$#! “I can’t believe this is happening! “
Stay calm. Don’t panic. Now is the time to take hold of yourself, and follow our 3-day action plan.
But first, here are some answers to the questions going through your mind:
Does an arrest mean I am definitely going to serve time in jail?
An arrest is not a guarantee that formal charges will be filed against you. The State Attorney’s Office will review the arrest report, available evidence, and likely witnesses. They may decide the case is not strong enough to move forward with charges.
If I am arrested, doesn’t that mean the police are charging me with a crime?
Only the State Attorney’s Office can charge you with a crime. If they determine the case is strong enough, they will file formal charges. The arrest in itself is not a formal charge. You will know you have been charged with a crime when you receive a document called an “Information.” That is a document only the state attorney can file and it is a formal notice of charges.
Do I need to hire an attorney right after the arrest?
It is always a good idea to have an attorney early in your situation. An attorney will keep you from making your situation worse and will be available to negotiate with the prosecutor. Also, many times an arrest can be a form of a “fishing trip” made by police to see if they can get a confession or come across something that can strengthen the case against you. You may say too much and volunteer too much if you are on your own. An attorney will help you guard against accidentally strengthening the case.
I already have a Public Defender. Can I still hire a private attorney?
Yes. You can change to a private attorney at any time during your case. But don’t wait until you are a month before the trial. At that point, there is not enough time to do the work needed to improve your case. And many attorneys will not take a case at the last minute.
Is there a big difference between a private attorney and a public defender?
Yes. Both are licensed attorneys and both attended law school. Both may be equally experienced in criminal law. But a public defender often has a huge caseload, and little if any free time. They split their time between many cases and do not have much time for individual analysis. A private attorney has the time, resources, and motivation to concentrate on your case. A Public Defender is a real attorney. Typically they have extensive experience conducting hundreds – if not thousands of cases. But there is a practical aspect to public defenders. They may have crushing caseloads. Most cases conducted by the public defender end up with less attention than they deserve.
Your Action Plan The First Day:
- Cooperate with the police. Don’t run and don’t avoid them. Doing so will only make your situation worse. Doing so will also convince them of your guilt and may make them much more aggressive toward you.
- If you receive a call to come into the police or sheriff’s office, have a friend bring you. Now is not the best time to drive and you probably do not want your car sitting at the jail parking lot. Even better than a friend – bring a member of our legal team.
- If there is a warrant for your arrest you may be intercepted on the way in. That would mean your car may be searched and then towed to an impound facility. You should make sure you are not carrying anything that would look bad if you are searched.
- Don’t start calling friends to discuss what is happening. At this moment in time, you will not know who really is your friend and who will testify against you. You would be surprised at how long-time friends choose to make statements to the police about your activities. Your friends are only human and human beings tend to act in their own self-interest.
- Some obvious advice is to make sure you don’t have any illegal items on your person when arrested.
- Again, if you have the “luxury” of traveling to the police station, call a bail bondsman on the way and begin arrangements for bail. A good bondsman can have you out of jail soon after you are processed in. That will make a world of difference in your mindset.
- Don’t talk with the police other than giving your name, and address. Now is the time to remember the 10,000 hours of television you watched where you heard the phrase: “You have the right to remain silent.” You really do! That is your constitutional right.
- The most important thing to do: the second you have contact with a police officer, calmly state that you would like an attorney. That one statement triggers a set of powerful, constitutional protections for you. Once you say the word “attorney” the police must stop questioning you.
- Don’t give the police permission to search anything, don’t sign anything, don’t give names of other people, and do not give consent to access private medical files. It may seem like a way to make a police officer like you, but their job is to efficiently process your arrest and assist in a future conviction.
- Remember, the police are allowed to lie to you for the purpose of obtaining a confession. Don’t assume police cannot lie. And do not assume they are your friend. Many police officers will pose as potential friends and allies. They may show empathy toward you or assure you the charges will never stick. These statements are tools of experienced police officers. They may try to get your trust for the purpose of making you comfortable. Because when you are comfortable you tend to talk about everything.
The Second Day:
- You may have spent the night in jail. Continue to remain silent. There is normally a payphone where you can call family or friends collect to seek help getting out.
- Your phone calls from jail may be recorded and later used against you. Watch what you say ! The less – the better. Be careful! Many modern jails have a computer system that transcribes telephone calls and automatically searches for certain keywords. Pretend an officer is standing there listening to every word and you will be a bit more careful of what you say.
- If you have not been bailed out of jail, you will be attending an initial hearing, where a judge may reduce your bail. If so, it does not hurt to directly request a lower bail amount.
- Your goal is to get out of jail today. That will either be through a bail bondsman or a family member that posts the full amount of the bond. Most bail bondsmen will require a cash payment of 10% of the bail amount and some sort of collateral that is worth the other 90%.
- If you get bonded out of jail, now is the time to start thinking about finances. Review your credit cards and other sources of credit.
- Go into conservation mode. Don’t spend money on unnecessary purchases.
- Build a financial war chest that can tide you over until things calm down. If you can, stash away money you may need to live on. Pay minimum payments on your debt and keep more money in your pocket. Apply for several new credit cards.
- Call an Ayo and Iken attorney and set up an appointment to discuss your situation.
The Third Day
- Hopefully, you have not discussed your case with anyone but your attorney. Continue your silence. Go about your daily business. And don’t get into further trouble.
- Don’t call the victim or potential witnesses. This will quickly land you back in jail. It may also come back to haunt you in court. You would be surprised at how many people call the victim. More often than not there will be a “no contact” order in place that makes it illegal for you to contact the victim. For our purposes, the “victim” can be a person or a business.
- If the pending charge is really serious, start to think of a plan B for your children. At this moment in time, you don’t want to be worried about keeping your family together.
- If you are potentially in a divorce or custody dispute, immediately get consult with a divorce attorney. A criminal charge will radically affect your situation and you need to do some planning.
- Find out how to look up your case progress online. The majority of court records are public records and are available online. This will help you ensure you do not miss any hearings.
- Most criminal cases involve a lot of time and a lot of waiting. Cooperate with your attorney and don’t get in any more trouble.
- Stop hanging out with any friends with a track record of trouble.
- Don’t fall into despair. All stressful events eventually pass. Arrests are very stressful. You may feel like your life is coming apart. But the vast majority of people survive the situation and eventually regain happiness.
Every Day After
- Stay on top of your situation. Just because you made a good start is not an excuse to stick your head in the sand. Keep looking at the court docket. Check your mail every day. And make sure to inform the clerk of court if you have changed your address.
- Start making plans for your new life. Yes – it will happen. Now is the time to visualize your positive new future.
- Go to the gym, eat well, and don’t drink to excess. Now is not the time to let youself go physically. And don’t numb yourself with drugs and alcohol. That can only make your situation worse.
Above all – be positive! The whole thing will eventually become a distant memory. In the future, you will probably look back on this period of time and laugh about it.