What If I Am Arrested?
Being accused of a crime — and then being denied our freedom, even temporarily—is a very serious matter. On a personal and professional level it can have damaging, long-term consequences. It is why our Constitution guarantees all accused citizens the rights to remain silent, to have an attorney, to seek release on bail, to know the evidence against us and to a trial by a jury of our peers.
While most arrests are legal and made in good faith, many have proven to be a mistake, unjustified or improper. For those wrongfully or mistakenly accused, it is traumatic and horrific. Being arrested causes deep feelings of fear, anger, depression, and shame. Often it brings great personal, family and public humiliation.
Even when charges are dropped or reduced, the physical, psychological and emotional scars remain. The record of an arrest on our personal lives can be no less permanent — affecting school admissions, employment and career opportunities.
Unfortunately, an arrest can also quickly turn into a highly dangerous and fatal moment — with lasting consequences that were never intended by either the police or the person being arrested.
No matter how difficult, wrong or upsetting, you must remember:
The time to sort out the facts and the law is never at the time of an arrest. An arrest is only an accusation that you have broken the law. Nothing more. A case is never “won” — no one is ever vindicated — at the time of an arrest.
Remember: There will be many later opportunities to address the factual and legal issues of your case. By staying safe and waiting, you will not have to defend yourself alone. You will have the ability to work with an attorney, government or community organization, witnesses and evidence,as well as the courts.
You and the police must survive the moment of an arrest, without unnecessary and additional loss, damages or criminal charges.
Note: Stay safe on the streets. Contest in the courts. If wrongly arrested or mistreated by the police, just try to recall (or ask others to make a record of) the officers’ names, badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and physical descriptions, as well as any witnesses or recordings.
Remember: Increasingly, the police, public security cameras and bystanders are recording events. Behave accordingly.
- As a general matter, follow all of the rules for being "stopped" by the police.
- Remember, you will have the chance to defend yourself, and present evidence and witnesses in court.
- Remain calm, polite and respectful, even if you feel the arrest was unfair.
- You may ask the officers “why” you are being arrested. Do so in a polite or respectful tone.
- If they have made a mistake, you can explain why. Do so calmly and respectfully — and do not lie. This could result in additional charges.
- Follow the officer’s instructions.
- Always keep your hands in clear view—where the officer can see them.
- Keep your hands open to avoid any concern that you might be about to strike the officer or are holding a weapon or illegal object.
- Try to maintain eye contact with the officer. Stay as relaxed as possible. Looking around, waving your arms or moving your feet can make officers feel that there is a risk to their safety or the safety of others.
- Never resist arrest, even if you are innocent. You could be charged with resisting arrrest.
- Do not try to destroy items that the police might believe is evidence. You could be charged with additional crimes.
- Do not insult or threaten the officers with your words or actions.
- Never pretend not to hear police instructions.
- Never try to run, flee, or or hide —even if you feel scared or nervous, have somewhere to go, or feel that you are being unfairly stopped.
- Even if you think you can avoid the police, there will often be other officers - including plain-clothed officers - in the area who will respond.
- Fleeing from the police only leads to the potential for a dangerous chase, serious injury, and additional criminal charges.
- Even if responding to police instructions, avoid making sudden or other movements (for your wallet, coat, pocket,waistband, etc.). These movements might give officers concern for their own or the public’s safety.
- Unless instructed by the police, avoid making sudden or other movements (for your wallet, for your coat, toward your waistband, etc.). These movements might give officers concern for their own or the public’s safety.
- Inform the officer before you make any movements so he/she has time to respond.
- Inform the officer of any weapon or item that could be used as a weapon - even if you have a permit or it is legal.
- Do not encourage others to get involved or interfere.
- Upon arrest, the officers will place you under their physical control. Again, you should follow all of their instructions and not resist or argue.
- The arrest will usually involve some contact with your body and placing you in handcuffs, with your arms behind your back.
- If the handcuffs are too tight and causing pain, politely tell the officers.
- The officers will then read you your constitutional rights.
- Again, everything you say to an officer is important. So is how you say it. What you say could and likely will be used against you in court.
- You have the right to remain silent and not answer questions.
- To exercise this right, you only have to explain to the police, “I would like to remain silent.”
- You may also decide to answer some questions, and then choose to remain silent.
- If you speak to an officer, always tell the truth.
- It is better to remain silent than to lie. You could make matters worse.
- You also have the right to speak with a lawyer before deciding whether and how to speak to the police.
- If you already have a lawyer, you can ask to speak to him/her.
- If you want to speak to a lawyer, but cannot afford one, a lawyer will be appointed for you without charge when you go to court.
- At any point in time, you may request needed medical attention. Tell the officers immediately of any serious medical condition or if you are not feeling well.
- If you have children or others in your care, you may ask officers to call a family member or friend before they take you away.
- After arrest, the police will drive or walk you to a nearby police station. There, you will be photographed, fingerprinted, and either held in a temporary jail or released with instructions to return.
- The police will collect your personal possessions and store them for you.
- Even if you have exercised your right to remain silent, you must provide basic personal identifying information and submit to fingerprinting. Otherwise, a judge may order you held in jail until that information is provided.
- When you are brought to this police station or jail, you may ask to call a family member, friend or attorney. Ask politely and respectfully.
- If you are held at the police station or in jail, you will eventually be brought to court. Depending upon when and where you were arrested and how busy the courts are, this process may take a day or more.
In court, several things will begin to happen:
- You will have the chance to meet with your lawyer or one will be appointed to you.
- A judge will explain the charges.
- You will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
- Another date will be set to begin hearings on your case.
- The conditions will be set for your release until your next court appearance (bail).
- Even if you, your family and friends cannot meet the bail requirements, a bail bond service may be helpful or your lawyer may be able to make additional suggestions to the judge.
- Later, you can request a trial, or possibly negotiate for the dismissal or lowering of charges.