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Real Life: When You Find Yourself On The Wrong Side Of The Law

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We all hope that this is something that will never happen to us, or worse still our children or loved ones. But, as laws are changing rapidly, we may well at some point find ourselves on the wrong side of the law without even knowing it, or – well, the opposite of that may be true as well.

People commit crimes for a multitude of reasons, speak to any prison officer and they’ll tell you that most of the folks in prison are not necessarily bad people – they’ve often just made some really bad choices, and that’s not the same thing.

So how do you deal with getting arrested? What happens when you do get arrested, and how do you handle the process without getting yourself into further trouble? What advice do you give to your son or daughter should you ever receive that dreaded post-midnight call from your local police station?

We’re going to help you unpack some of these issues.

The United States is home to a staggering 2.1 million people, and while that number is lower than at the end of 2019 (so pre-Covid days), we still “put away” more people than any other first world or developed nation – and in fact, more than any nation on earth at all. All manner of crimes occur in this country, from minor skirmishes to our staggering car crash rate, to the more serious stuff.

Now, as a parent before we get into the entirety of this post, it is important to know that as a first-time minor offender, the world doesn’t have to end for your child, or if it is you that is getting your first (and hopefully only) pair of silver bangles before you begin plotting all manner of madness in your head, know this: many people have come out of this awful situation and used it to build highly successful and enriched lives. 

Take a look at this article by criminaljustice.com and you’ll see what we mean. So just keep that in mind – you don’t have to be thinking about doing anything stupid just because you’ve been arrested, this may be just what you’ve needed to redirect your life.

OK, time to get a little more serious.

What Happens If You’re Arrested in Public 

Look, there’s no easy way to say this: being stopped by a police officer is a very stressful event, and it is an event that can head south rather fast if you don’t cooperate or if you become aggressive or non-compliant. If you or a child has been arrested because of a fight or an altercation at a bar or party, is the responsibility of the police officer to deescalate the situation, but remember this: in light of recent events, police officers have come under increasing amounts of attack – even the good ones, and this means that everyone is more agitated and anxious than usual.

So, keep calm – as much as possible, comply with the police officers, if you’ve been arrested incorrectly, you can sort this out later but at the time of your arrest it is better to be calm, complacent, and compliant – this will count in your favor later on.

Here is What Must Happen Now that You’re Being Arrested 

If you are being taken into custody, then you must be read your ‘Miranda Rights’ – we’ve all heard that in a movie at some point right. You do not have to say anything to a police officer when you’re being arrested, you have the right – to remain silent. You don’t have to answer any questions about where you’re coming from or going to – however if you intend to remain silent, you have to state that you intend to remain silent. In some states, you must give your name if asked for it by a police officer and they can arrest you if you don’t provide it.

You don’t have to consent to a search of your person or your belongings, but police may pat you down if they think you’re hiding a weapon of some sort. Now, simply refusing to allow consent to a search or pat-down may not stop a police officer from actually doing so, but saying this out loud will help you later on.

If you’re arrested by a police officer, you have the right to a state-appointed attorney if you cannot afford your own, and you do NOT have to answer any of their questions while in custody without the presence of a lawyer – remember, that everything you voluntarily offer during questioning is “fair game” for the state, later – and police have been known to employ all sorts of tactics to get this information from you before your legal representation arrives.

Remember: they have a job to do. They are working on behalf of “the people” and when you’re arrested, you’re on the other side of that thin blue line.

When Your Lawyer Arrives

You may speak to your lawyer without the presence of law enforcement – tell your attorney everything about the event, tell them precisely what happened, and do not leave out any details. Depending on the severity of the arrest, you may be released under police caution, or you may have to attend a bail hearing if the state thinks you may pose a significant flight risk and are unlikely to attend your follow up hearings or court proceedings, in an attempt to evade arrest.

If you do attend a hearing and you are granted bail, you will often be released on bail pending a certain amount of money being held as security by the courts. Often, this amount can be prohibitive to many people, so you may well need someone that specializes in bail bonds, and your attorney can help secure this for you if needed.

Court Day – And It’s Not Good News 

So you’ve arrived in court, the trial has begun and your attorney and the district attorney have made their case to the judge and jury. The jury has deliberated and you – have been found guilty.

You will now have to attend a ‘sentencing hearing’. This is the final step in criminal prosecution and it differs from the actual trial. Here the judge will decide your fate based upon a variety of information gained from your probation officer, character references, medical or psychiatric reports where necessary, and – your own letter of remorse to the judge, which you must allow your lawyer to help you with. This is your last opportunity to appeal to the judge for clemency or mercy in your own words and without the meddling of the legal types.

Based on all of that information the judge will decide if the crime and the circumstances of the crime you’ve committed warrant actual jail time and incarceration, as well as the length of that period.

If your crime is less severe and you’re a first time offender, you may be sentenced to what’s known as “time served” if you were denied bail and held in a remedial facility pending trial, or you may be released on community service or a suspended sentence, or any combination of those things. If you’re in the position to do so, you may also offer the victim “reparations” or a monetary amount in recompense for your wrong-doing – or you may well be ordered to pay this amount.

If You’re Released on Probation 

It is VITAL that you keep all of your probation appointments and that you stick to the requirements of your probation. If any of your circumstances change you must communicate these with your probation officer immediately. If you’re required to complete community service, then do it – and do it with pride and a sense of purpose. Don’t let this experience define you – rather, choose how it will define you, and keeping your integrity in check even in these circumstances will go a long way to helping you define what happens next.

If You’re Sentenced to Time in Prison

There is just no easy way around this – you’re going to have a tough time, but it also doesn’t have to be the end of all things, we’re not saying that this isn’t going to change you on a molecular level, rather the hope is that it does change you – for the better, but there is no “one size fits all” approach that is going to work here. 

You may not be able to do much about being sentenced to time in prison, but how you spend that time is going to have a direct impact on how you reclaim your life when you’re released. There is a very useful article by the Prison Fellowship, here – and this will help you.

Hopefully, your time in prison isn’t too long and you’ll use this opportunity to rebuild your life, many people have made it out of prison to launch successful businesses and get their lives back on track.

However this pans out for you or a loved one, we hope that this experience doesn’t end your life, but rather – that it restarts it and you learn to appreciate how fragile it all is, and come back better, stronger, and more determined than before.

What do you think?

Written by Nina Hodjat

Criminal defense attorney in California & New York. I write about topics that tickle my fancy such as supercars and symphonies, and I’m the author/creator of Kids YogaStories.

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