A middle-of-the-night phone call almost always means trouble. Someone you know may have had an accident or become sick, and you need to rush to the hospital. Or maybe a friend has been arrested and has chosen you as the person to call. Would you know what to do in the latter situation? Or what not to do? Your actions could have a significant impact, so educate yourself ahead of time on the right course of action.
First, remind your friend of his constitutional rights.
Make sure he understands that he does not have to answer any questions without a lawyer present. Getting an attorney like criminal lawyer Mike Rothman involved from the outset will help your find avoid saying something incriminating.
Who, where, and when
Find out which law enforcement agency arrested your friend, when and where the arrest happened, and where he has been taken. It’s important to know whether the arrest was made by a county sheriff or by a municipal police department, as well as where you need to go to help your friend.
Ask your friend what the charges are, but don’t let him elaborate or tell you what happened. As eHow points out, your phone conversation is not privileged and may be recorded, so anything your friend tells you can be used in court.
Emphasize that you just want to know the charges and nothing more. If he starts to give details, cut him off with a question like, “Are you OK?” or “Is there anyone else you’d like me to call?”
Ask your friend if he can be released on bail. If he doesn’t know, try to find out from one of the officers. But understand that the booking process can take several hours, so you may have to wait for the answer to that question.
If bail is an option, but your friend doesn’t have the means to arrange it, you’ll need to decide whether you’re willing to post the bail yourself. That’s a big decision; you may choose to wait until the next morning when other arrangements can be made (like calling a family member or gaining access to your friend’s money).
Ask your friend if he has or knows of a criminal defense lawyer he wants you to call. If not, tell him you’ll find one for him, and remind him not to answer any questions until that lawyer arrives.
Many law offices have services that answer the phone around the clock, so you shouldn’t have to make too many calls to find a lawyer who will help. Tell him what you know, and ask him if he can go to the location where your friend is being held. Expect to pay either a flat fee or an hourly rate, but don’t sign a retainer – your friend may choose a different lawyer to handle the case.
Right now, you’re just looking for someone to handle the arrest and to protect your friend from self-incrimination.
Being arrested is stressful and embarrassing. Your friend has chosen you to help. Make sure you know what to do and what not to do to get your friend out of jail and to reduce any long-term consequences.
Mike Rothman is a veteran criminal lawyer. He understands that law can be complicated and stressful. He enjoys writing about navigating through the justice system from a variety of perspectives on law and crime blogs.