Anyone can be arrested, and it could happen to you even if your only prior brush with the law is a traffic ticket. If you find yourself under arrest in the back of a squad car on the way to the police station, do you know what to do? Do you know what to expect? Do you know how to protect your rights?

Ask for a Lawyer

If you’ve been arrested or the police are investigating a crime and want to talk to you, your first step should be to ask for a lawyer. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent; use it. “Lawyering up” and claiming your rights shouldn’t present any sort of an issue. Talking to the police without a lawyer won’t change how you’ll be treated if the police suspect you in a crime. By agreeing to speak, you may end up hurting yourself.

It can be hard to assert your rights when you’re in police custody, and don’t give in. Police may appear to promise things will go better if you just answer their questions. Do know that once you’ve asked to talk to a lawyer, you shouldn’t be questioned again. You should not volunteer any further information until your lawyer arrives.

Procedures after Arrest

Once arrested, the booking process is next. At the police station or jail, your fingerprints are taken and you’re photographed – your mug shot. The holding cell is your next stop, where you’ll wait until you’re taken before a judge or magistrate.

During this first appearance in front of the judge, you may be asked if you’re guilty or not. Bail or bond issues are taken care of. If you don’t have a lawyer yet, the judge will decide whether to appoint a lawyer to represent you, also known as a public defender.

Bail and bond procedures vary by state law. Generally, bail means you’re depositing a certain amount of money or pledging property to ensure you’ll return to court. If you don’t have access to funds or property, you may use the services of a bail bondsman. The bondsman posts a bond with the court, promising your return. You’re charged a portion of the full bail amount. If you skip out, the bondsman owes the court the full amount of the bail and will be looking to collect that lost amount from you or those who put up assets to help you.


If you’re charged with a crime, you’ll return to court for an arraignment hearing. The purpose of the arraignment is to have the charges read to you and for you to enter a plea. You have the right to be present at the arraignment, and to have your lawyer there to represent you. Your lawyer can help explain both the charges, and the plea you’ll enter.

Plea Bargains or Trial

Going forward, you may be offered a plea bargain from the prosecutor, or your case may proceed to trial. Actions you take from the moment you’re arrested can affect how your case will turn out. Stay calm, know your rights and think and act carefully if you’re arrested.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I spoke to the police without a lawyer because I live in a small community, and the police said it would be easier if I answered their questions. Can I have those statements excluded from my trial?
  • I had to ask repeatedly for a lawyer when I was arrested; does this affect my case at all?
  • How long can I be kept in a holding cell without talking to my lawyer or seeing a judge after arrest?
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