When you've been arrested, especially if the arrest is unexpected, you can be confused about your legal rights. It's important to be informed about what you have the right to say, do, and refuse to consent to while you're being held in police custody. The following information describes the circumstances under which you can legally be arrested, what you should do both immediately after you're arrested and while you're in custody, and your legal rights after an arrest.
Under what circumstances can I be arrested?
If a police officer personally witnesses you committing a misdemeanor, he or she can legally arrest you. This is the violation of any state statute, city ordinance, or federal law that could have a penalty of jail time. If the violation is a minor misdemeanor (in which case, a fine is the only possible penalty, not jail time), the officer can't arrest you unless you refuse to give your name or sign the citation, or unless you've previously failed to appear in court or pay a fine on a similar charge.
You can be arrested for a felony (a more serious crime that involves jail time), even if the officer didn't personally witness the crime, if the officer had probable cause to believe you did commit the crime. It later falls to the court system, not to the police, to determine whether the officer's belief was valid and whether you're guilty or innocent.
Any time there's a warrant for your arrest, whether or not you're aware of it, you can be arrested. An arrest warrant is a legal document issued by a judge that directs the police to arrest you and take you into custody. The officer who arrests you doesn't have to have the warrant in hand when you're arrested, but he or she must show it to you and provide a copy within a reasonable amount of time (generally 72 hours).
Other circumstances in which you could be arrested, regardless of the severity of the crime, include cases of domestic violence or cases in which your mental state might cause you to harm yourself or someone else.
What should I do if I am arrested?
Never argue with or resist the police, even if you think they have no grounds to arrest you. Arguing or resisting arrest can result in additional charges being brought against you, and this can significantly increase the amount of bail the judge assigns. Cooperate with the police, and wait to speak with a lawyer before explaining your side of the situation.
What are my rights after being arrested?
A police officer who arrests you and asks you questions other than your name and address must let you know that you have a right not to answer those additional questions.
You have the right to be informed of the reason you're being arrested. If you're being arrested on a warrant, you have the right to see it within a reasonable amount of time (normally 72 hours).
You have the right to be read your Miranda rights before being questioned. These include:
- The right to remain silent.
- The right to waive your right to remain silent and the knowledge that if you do, your answers can be used against you.
- The right to stop answering questions at any time and consult with an attorney.
- The right to talk to an attorney before answering any questions or signing anything.
- The right to a court-appointed attorney if you can't afford a private one.
Before answering any questions, always ask to speak to a lawyer. Even if you're trying to be cooperative by answering questions at the police station, this can make it difficult for your lawyer to defend you down the line.
You also have the right to:
- Contact a friend or family member to inform them of your arrest and charges.
- Have your lawyer present at any identification procedure (such as a lineup) in which you are viewed by potential eyewitnesses to a crime.
- Reasonable bail or bond amount to allow you to be released from jail, unless you're charged with a capital crime.
- Appear before a court within a reasonable time after your arrest to have a preliminary hearing and/or trial to determine whether you're guilty or innocent.
What will the police do after I'm arrested?
The police will handcuff you, search you for weapons, transport you to jail, and take a photograph and fingerprints.
The police may ask you to let them search your car, your home, or other locations or possessions. Unless they have a court-issued search warrant, you can refuse to consent to these searches. You can't be penalized for refusing to consent to a search. Exercise your right to an attorney and discuss the situation before consenting.
What should I do (or not do) while I'm in custody?
Don't argue with the police, even if you feel you've done nothing wrong. If you've been arrested, it's because the police believe you have committed a crime, and they are gathering evidence to support that belief. Save your explanations and defenses for your attorney, and he or she can help you plead your case in court.
Don't tell your family or friends details about the circumstances surrounding your arrest, and don't seek legal advice from anyone except your lawyer.
Don't talk to any other inmates or corrections officers about your case; this can actually lead to a conviction.
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