Even innocent people, who have never committed a crime in their life, could potentially be arrested. It might be a case of mistaken identity, or there might be misleading evidence suggesting you’ve committed a crime. Or, of course, you may have committed a crime—but the police don’t necessarily know that for sure at this point.
Either way, the point is you’ve been arrested, and your next steps are going to decide your fate. If you’re combative and bragging about the crime you just committed, you probably won’t have much of a chance to fight your charges. But if you’re smart, and you know how to act after an arrest, you’ll have a much better chance of escaping unscathed—or with the smallest penalties possible.
So what, exactly, should you do after you’ve been arrested?
Understand If You’ve Actually Been Arrested
There’s a difference between being detained and being arrested, so make sure you know that difference—and whether the distinction applies to your situation. An officer will arrest you if they personally see you commit a crime, if they have probably cause that you’ve committed a felony, or if a judge or magistrate has issued a formal arrest warrant. When you’re arrested, you’re not free to leave at any point.
If you’re being detained, an officer will ask you some questions, often in response to suspicious behavior. You may not be free to leave, but you won’t be considered under arrest. In many cases, you’ll want to follow the same steps outlined below.
Ask the officer in question if you’re being arrested and whether you’re free to leave. In many cases, the best course of action is, if you can legally leave, to leave.
Too many criminals self-incriminate themselves moments after being arrested, whether they realize it or not. Officers are typically aggressive in asking questions, often phrased in a way that makes it hard to answer without making yourself look bad. For example, if you’ve been arrested under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and an officer asks you, “just how many drinks did you have tonight?”, any positive answer you give will incriminate yourself.
Rather than running the risk of a slip-up, and rather than lying or manipulating the truth, your best course of action is to keep quiet. You aren’t generally required to answer officers’ questions, especially without a lawyer present, so just keep quiet and assert your right to an attorney.
Call a Lawyer
Aside from keeping quiet, the best possible move you can make while under arrest is contacting a criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer is trained to help people out of situations like this, and they’re usually very experienced in dealing with police officers; they also have an impeccable understanding of the law. Consistently ask for a lawyer until you’re able to get one, and stay quiet in the meantime. Once your lawyer has arrived, speak to them freely and listen to the advice they give you. You don’t have to follow their advice precisely in all situations, but you will need them to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of your actions. Listen to everything they have to say about the situation.
Don’t Believe the Police
Your lawyer should tell you this immediately, but if you’re waiting for yours to arrive, don’t trust the police. It’s perfectly legal for a police officer to lie to you in order to extract a confession. They might claim to have evidence that they haven’t actually found. They might tell you the best course of action is to make a full confession, so it will be easier for everyone. They might even offer you a deal in exchange for confessing to a crime. Don’t believe these claims.
Don’t Consent to a Search
The law gets complicated, and it varies by state, but police officers need a good reason before they can search you, your home, or your vehicle. If they ask you to consent to a search, it means they don’t have that reason; always refuse consent.
Remain Calm and Polite
Arresting officers may not be especially kind to you, but it’s important to refrain from talking back, insulting the officers, or otherwise being aggressive. Instead, remain calm and polite as possible. Officers have a lot of control and discretion in how charges are brought to you, and how those charges eventually develop. If they think you’re a jerk, that’s not going to work in your favor.
Conducting yourself properly when under arrest is challenging, even for people who understand the law. That’s why one of your first priorities should be getting a lawyer on your side. The sooner you have a lawyer, the sooner you’ll be able to fully understand your current situation.