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Criminal Procedure Law

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What Happens If I'm Arrested?

Arrests can happen in different ways. Police officers may already have an arrest warrant and be looking for you. Without a warrant, they need probable cause to suspect you, such as smelling alcohol on your breath while you’re driving, or see you commit a crime, such as speeding, and then may arrest you.

They need to stop or catch you and explain the criminal charges they are arresting you for in all of these cases.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

At the time of your arrest, police will usually advise you of your Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, etc.). If they do not do this, note it and tell your attorney about it.

Remember your right to remain silent and do not answer police questions that you do not want to answer.

Custody and Processing at the Police Station

The term “custody” describes any time the police keep you at their station.

You can go in willingly if you want to confess to a crime, or police must arrest you to take you into custody. You are not necessarily in their custody when they just talk to you or pull you over. They must actually make the arrest, or you are free to leave.

Once you are in custody, police cannot use any statements you make against you until they read you your Miranda rights.

In custody, you will be “processed.” This involves taking fingerprints, recording your identity, and looking up your past records. They will hold you in a room or jail cell at the police station or sheriff’s office. You can then use the phone or speak with your lawyer.

Police officers or detectives may ask you questions. This is called “custodial interrogation.” You can choose not to answer anything or wait until your attorney is present to answer questions.

Timeline When Charged With a Crime

There are specific timeframes and procedures you need to know after being arrested and charged with a crime. The prosecution and the judge must follow this timeline as well.

You can be held in jail overnight or over a weekend. You can expect to make your phone call, speak with a lawyer, hear the charges against you, and have a judge set your bond amount within 48 hours. The time between arrest getting out on bail can vary from state to state.

Making Your Phone Call

You should get your phone call within a “reasonable time” — often within four hours of your arrest. Movies and TV shows make it seem like you only get one call, but people typically get a few chances to reach someone.

You do not need to have your attorney’s contact information memorized. A phone book is typically available, or you can call a number you have memorized and ask them to contact an attorney. Make sure you have at least one person’s contact information memorized.

Anything you say on this call can be overheard or held against you. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court can provide you a public defender free of charge. They will discuss the case with you and provide legal advice.

Paying the Bond

After an arrest, you will appear before a judge. They may set a bond amount for your future appearance in court.

You (the defendant) need to “post the bond” or “make bail” to leave jail until your court hearing. This means you pay the amount or a percentage of the amount the judge sets. If you can’t afford to pay this, you may have to remain in jail until your trial.

In some cases, judges follow a “schedule,” or a pre-determined list of criminal charges, for setting your bail amount.

Once “posting” your bond, you will remain free until your next scheduled appearance at the arraignment which is typically your first court hearing. If the judge allows it, you will remain free, but you will have more court dates and other legal obligations, such as regularly checking in with the police station and not leaving the area, until your case concludes.

Arraignment or First Hearing

An arraignment must occur within 48 hours of the arrest or the first date available, for example if you are arrested on a weekend or holiday. Some jurisdictions may allow for more time.

The arraignment occurs in court before a judge. During the arraignment, you will be:

  • Formally told what offenses you are charged with
  • Advised of your constitutional rights
  • Informed of all possible penalties

Pleading Guilty or Not Guilty

If charged, you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Your attorney will advise you about the best option and the likely penalties you may face, if any.

The bond may be reviewed, and the judge will schedule a date for the next hearing. If you didn’t post bail, you will return to jail. This process will continue until your case concludes. If you a jury finds you guilty, you will then move on to the sentencing phase.

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