How to Help a Friend Who Gets Arrested in the Middle of the Night

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It is 2 AM and someone you know has just been arrested. You know you need legal help. You do not want your friend to make a confession, be in a line-up, or even get fingerprinted if it can be avoided. It is tough to know what to do or who to trust. Moreover, you do not know who will even answer the phone at that time of day. Here is what you need to know if this happens in the United States of America.


    1. Find out where they are being held and by what police agency. Whether you get the call from a police officer or your friend, make sure that this is the first thing you ask. If you can, tell your friend that you are finding a lawyer and not to answer any compromising police questions until that lawyer arrives. In short, the 'name, rank, and serial number' response will do fine. They should always cooperate, but the less said until a lawyer arrives, the better. Anything they say, even to you over the phone, can be used against them in court, and having a lawyer present as a defense mediation between them and the police is essential. Your friend must immediately say, "I want a lawyer" and the police cannot interrogate him. Even if he has to repeat this again and again, it will save him from saying something that may be used against him in court.
    2. Ask what the actual charge is, and do not let them try to tell you what happened. The call is not privileged and it can, and probably will, be recorded by police for later use. If the arrested is an adult, the police are not required to tell a friend or family member anything.
    3. Advise them to tell the officer they will not answer questions or take tests without a lawyer present. Tell them not to make any statements about any alleged offenses and tell them not to take any tests, with the exception of alcohol screening tests (see warnings), unless or until they get advice from a lawyer. Only the arrested subject can invoke his rights; you can not do it for them.
    4. Find a criminal defense attorney. Keep calling lawyers until you find one that either answers their phone or has an answering service that can reach them anytime, day or night.
    5. Tell the lawyer that your friend is arrested and give him the address of the Police Station, and as much information as you know. Many lawyers will do this for free, but may request payment of at least $150-$350 for that call.
    6. Gather as much money as you can to pay the lawyer in court and to post bail. It is more important to get a good lawyer on the case early than to immediately get your friend out of jail.


    • Most minor crimes and traffic violations can be bailed out from the station house through the use of a desk appearance ticket or a desk sergeant's bail.
    • Tell the lawyer you found that you will need his services for the purpose of securing your friend's rights only for the night in question and possibly the next day at arraignment if that is scheduled; do not sign a long-term retainer without the accused's participation.
    • Any legal fee for standing in at arraignment should be either a flat fee or at an hourly rate. Most criminal defense attorneys will charge between $150-$350 per hour, more in some urban areas.
    • At the arraignment, (the formal reading of criminal charges, and entering the plea), you do not have to use the lawyer that helped originally. If the accused cannot afford to hire a lawyer, a public defender will be appointed to represent them. Often the best and most knowledgeable lawyers in the courthouse will be the public defenders, though they will invariably be the busiest as well, and will not be able to offer your friend as much time as a private attorney will. Your friend will probably be best served by hiring a private attorney, however, a public defender will be available if that is impossible. Avoid hiring lawyers who solicit you in the courthouse hallways!
    • If you run into trouble finding out where your friend is being held and by what police agency, seek the services of a bail bondsman, as they are experienced at this, and can sometimes locate your friend faster than you.
    • Remember, the best way to help with the problems associated with being arrested is to avoid the arrest in the first place. Keep out of fights, drink responsibly, drive responsibly, and help friends do so as well.
    • This is a terribly embarrassing time. Keep the information on a need to know basis. Don't call friends or co-workers of the jailed friend. If the friend will miss work because of the incarceration, you may want to consider asking your friend for their manager's email or phone number and determine if they want the boss informed of the situation. If it is a secret, you should determine the most appropriate "reason" for your friends absence from work.
    • Consider calling their parents, especially if you cannot or chose not to get involved. If your friend has an alcohol or drug problem, they may be trying to avoid parents. The parents may also be willing to assist you with the financial burden of getting your friend out of jail. They may choose to remain anonymous to avoid embarrassment.


    • In some states, you have a very limited time or no right at all to contact a lawyer regarding alcohol testing. Also, in many states, refusal to take an alcohol test carries the same penalty as a test failure. Never ask the police for advice; they are paid to be against the arrested person. Get a lawyer on the phone as quickly as possible and ask him.
    • Police do not have to "read you your rights," and their failure to do so does not invalidate an arrest. They only have to give you your rights if they (a) arrest you and (b) ask you questions about the crime. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are technical and only a properly trained lawyer can usually identify them; in any case, it is always better to be safe and not volunteer information. Hence, tell your friend to just remain calm and keep asking for an attorney.
    • The police are public servants and have a very vital job to perform, but this does not mean they won't try to trick you. When investigating a crime, police are not prevented from giving you misleading or outright untrue information in an effort to elicit a statement from you. Accordingly, don't take everything a police officer says as necessarily true.
    • An oral statement is just as bad as a written statement. It is always best to say nothing.
    • Do not worry if you cannot find an attorney to represent them in court without being retained. Some courts will not let a non-retained lawyer stand in at arraignment. The court must provide an attorney at an arraignment if one is requested, or give the accused time to retain someone before he is arraigned.
    • Never hire an attorney who comes up to you in a hallway outside the courtroom or courthouse and offers his services. He is soliciting and that is unethical. Judges and court personnel know who these people are and do not treat them with respect. It will hurt you.
    • Beware the "Dump Truck" lawyer, ready to rush into a plea bargain. Make sure the lawyer you hire is willing to look into the facts of the case and will believe in your friend and and trust your friend's story until it's disproved.
    • Generally, there is no right to an attorney during physical testing such as taking blood, breath, or urine samples, as it doesn't constitute volitional communication. Failure to submit to an alcohol screening test, in some states, will result in an automatic suspension of your driver's license, since agreeing to take those tests was a condition of receiving your license. On the one hand, the person arrested may have a good reason not to permit a blood test, (e.g., presence of other substances in blood), as losing driving privileges might not be the biggest worry.