“I JUST GOT ARRESTED … NOW WHAT?”
There is no worse feeling in the world than observing flashing red/blue lights in your rear view mirror. Without a moment’s notice, you feel your heart race, stomach drop, and fear take over your body. The first and only thought running through your mind is “Who is going to get me out of this mess?”
Prior to asking yourself, “Who is going to get me out of this mess?” you should be asking yourself, “Why am I getting pulled over?” Take careful inventory of your surroundings. “Did I run a red light, hit a pedestrian, or is marijuana smoke burning out my sun roof?” Locate your license, insurance, and registration. Turn down your radio. Most importantly, remember back to Civics class in Junior High School.
The U.S. Constitution states that you have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Law enforcement is required by law to read you Miranda warnings if they ask you a question that will elicit a testimonial response (i.e., reasonably expected that law enforcement’s question will lead to incriminating information) while you are in a custodial setting (i.e., you are not free to terminate the encounter with law enforcement). Law enforcement does not, however, have to read you Miranda to obtain background information, such as “What is your name?” Of note, spontaneous remarks or non-testimonial statements are not covered under Miranda. Free word of advice; do not volunteer information to the police! Moreover, in Florida, police officers routinely ask individuals suspected of Driving While Under the Influence or Possession of Controlled Substance, “Have you consumed alcohol (drugs) tonight?” News flash: the police already know the answer to these question(s); they are simply collecting evidence to be used against you at trial. Surprisingly, most Courts find this line of questioning permissible without the requirement of Miranda. The reason being that law enforcement “allegedly” asks these question(s) during their “criminal investigation” and not while the individual is in custody. Confused? I’m not surprised. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys have been litigating this issue for years. Until the Courts find this line of questioning impermissible – answer at your own peril!
So to recap,
- Be prepared (license, registration, insurance, drugs on the passenger seat, etc.)
- Be prepared (the police will ask you questions such as “Have you consumed alcohol (drugs) tonight?”)
- Be prepared (Do not volunteer information … spontaneous remarks are not covered under Miranda)
If the police make an arrest and transport you to jail, politely ask the police officer if you can write down the home telephone number of a close friend or relative. Even the most accommodating police officers may refuse this request. Law enforcement will inventory your possession(s) (i.e. cell phone) search incident to arrest. The telephones in the jail will only permit local calls to a landline number. You cannot make a phone call to a cell phone. Unless you want to remain in jail for an extended period of time, be prepared to call a local friend or relative’s house phone. Memorize at least one home phone number right now!
You will remain in custody until you deposit a cash bond or surety bond (bail bondsman) with the jail. A bond secures your appearance at a future court date. Upon release, your first and only question (after a long, long, long shower) should be, “Do I hire a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney or stay with my appointed (free) public defender?” As a former Assistant State Attorney, I strongly recommend that you retain an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. In all deference to the Broward County Public Defender’s Office, many Assistant Public Defenders face an impossible undertaking of handling 200-250+ cases, on a limited budget, with no resources. This equates to a perfect storm for failure. Private criminal defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale may have case loads of 25-50 cases at any given time. Do the math: even the most diligent Assistant Public Defender does not have enough hours in the day to fully prepare your case compared to a private attorney.
Admittedly, some private criminal attorney(s) in Fort Lauderdale are much less capable than an average Public Defender; but this is the exception, not the rule. Also, a limited number of private attorney(s) in Fort Lauderdale are walking billboards for legal malpractice; again, this is the exception, not the rule. Before hiring a private attorney, ask yourself, “Can I even afford to retain a private criminal defense lawyer in Fort Lauderdale?” The price differential between a “top notch” and “bottom feeder” criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale can be 50 fold. Does price always equate to a good attorney – no, but it is a decent litmus test. Be smart: if an attorney quotes you a fee substantially lower than his colleagues he may be a swindler, crook, charlatan, or just a poor attorney. Interview a few attorneys, obtain two-three quotes, ask for testimonials, review credentials, etc. That being said, it is important to remain diligent. It is in your interest to retain a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after your arrest. On average, the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County files charges within 33 days after arrest. Oftentimes, an experienced criminal defense attorney can present your “side of the story” to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office prior to charges being filed. This is especially relevant in allegations of domestic violence or economic crime. Occasionally, one letter or phone call can lead to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office dropping or reducing criminal charges.
If you are arrested, look to retain a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney who is proactive, trustworthy, attentive, and professional. Remember: hiring the right criminal defense lawyer can be the difference between spending a few years in jail or a few summers in the Hamptons.