Friday, December 6, 2013

What Happens After I am Arrested in DC?

The answer to this question greatly depends on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding your arrest.  At the outset, if you are arrested for a criminal offense in Washington, DC, that means that the law enforcement agency arresting you believes there is “probable cause” to place you under arrest.  Whether or not probable cause exists depends on whether in the particular circumstances, a police officer who is conditioned by their observations and information, and guided by their experience, reasonably could believe that a crime has been committed by the person who is arrested.

Once an officer has probable cause for an arrest, the officer can then formally arrest you and take you into custody.  This means that you are now subject to the control of the police, are no longer free to leave and you would most likely be constrained by handcuffs or by some other means. 

After you are arrested, what will happen next largely depends on the crime for which you have been arrested and the need for law enforcement to immediately investigate the crime.  Generally, unless the police need to procure information from you immediately in order to possibly protect the safety of others or to ensure that evidence is not lost, the police will not question you at the scene of the arrest.  Any questioning done at the scene of the arrest would most likely have occurred prior to the arrest taking place, in order for the police to avoid informing you of your Miranda rights -- because an individual generally does not have to be “read their rights” until he is placed under arrest and/or in police custody.

If an on scene interrogation is not going to occur, you would likely be transported to a police precinct.  Which precinct would be based upon where the arrest and/or crime occurred.  You may be transported to a precinct for non-geographic reasons in limited circumstances (e.g. for DUI arrests, sometimes individuals are transported to precincts that contain fully functioning breath-test instruments). 

Once taken to a police precinct, you would be placed into a holding cell, most likely with a number of other individuals who have been arrested that same day or night.  Then the wait begins.  Individuals can sometimes wait 4-6 hours in a holding cell before being given any information about why they have been arrested and what will happen next.  After the often long wait, there are a few different things that could happen, again, based mostly on specifics of the crime allegedly committed.  For almost all felony arrests and for some misdemeanor arrests a formal interrogation will ensue.

The police would place you into an interrogation room (where you may wait for an additional hour or more).  At some point a detective will enter the interrogation room.  The detective is required to review with you your  Miranda rights.  These include the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present for questioning.  If a suspect tells the police he does not wish to answer questions or he wishes to have an attorney present, the detective may or may not try to persuade the suspect that it is in the suspect’s best interest to waive his Miranda rights because “this may be the last time you get to tell me your side of the story,” or some other similar tactic to convince the suspect to give up his constitutional rights and risk incriminating himself.   

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer, it is my position that someone should NEVER , without exception, talk to the police without an attorney present.  People always ask me “what if I am innocent and I want to tell my side of the story?”  It doesn’t matter.  Detectives are trained and have years of experience in tricking, confusing, and intimidating people – even innocent people – into making self-incriminating statements that are later held against them.  If you waive your Miranda rights and talk to the detective, whatever you say is “on the record” and there is usually very little anyone can do to prevent those statements from being used against you in court.

Assuming you either refuse to answer questions or refuse to answer questions without an attorney present that will end the interrogation.  In my experience, law enforcement in the District of Columbia often has no interest in interrogating a suspect with an attorney present and  would rather give up on the interrogation than be forced to do it without employing the unfair tactics often used when interrogating individuals without an attorney by their side.  

What happens next again depends on the circumstances of the arrest.  If you are charged with a felony, you will remain in police custody until the next opportunity to be seen by a judge.  That usually will occur the next day (including Saturdays and holidays) unless you were arrested in the very early morning hours, in which case a judge may see you the same day. 

If you are charged with a misdemeanor and you have open/ongoing criminal cases, you are on probation, you are deemed to be a flight risk, or deemed to present some other risk if you were to be released from custody, you will also be held until seen by a judge.  If you are charged with a misdemeanor but do not fall into one of these categories, you will most likely be released from custody on what is known as “citation release.”  Citation release means that you will sign a document that serves as a promise to appear in court on a later date (usually in 3-6 weeks).  If you do not appear on the assigned court date, the signed document will provide the court with authority to issue a warrant for the your arrest.

What happens once you appear in front of a judge will be the subject of future blog posts.  For now, it is important to remember that just because you are being arrested does not mean that you will be convicted of the crime.  As discussed above, the standard for making an arrest is probable cause, which is MUCH lower than the standard for conviction, which is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  

However, being arrested for any crime is a very serious matter and as such should be taken very seriously by the individual who has been arrested.  It is imperative that you assert all of your rights at the time of your arrest and again, never speak to the police without an attorney present.  Further, you should immediately hire a trained and experienced criminal defense attorney in Washington, DC to represent you.  With any criminal offense, your freedom is at stake and you want someone in your corner who can fight for you and your rights.

If you or someone you know has been arrested in Washington, DC, please contact Sean J. Farrelly for a full and free consultation.  Sean understands how overwhelming being accused of a crime can be and the value of having an experienced, responsive, and effective attorney on your side.   

*Disclaimer:  this blog post is intended to provide general information to the public regarding the criminal justice system in Washington, DC.  It is not intended to provide specific legal advice nor do the contents of this blog post serve to establish any attorney-client relationship whatsoever.

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