What to Do if a Friend Has Been Arrested

A friend or close family member has been arrested—now what? What are their rights? What are your rights? What can you do to help them, especially if they struggle with an illness, disability or mental health issue?

Here, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the O’Mara Law Group walk you through the information you’ll need to get through this difficult time.

Steps After Family or Friend is Arrested

The arrest of a family member or friend can be shocking. You may feel helpless, but it’s important for you to retain your composure and be a source of strength and support for them. Whether you’re there when they’re arrested, speak with them on the phone or visit them at a holding facility, it’s important to help them remain calm.

Let them know that you’ll help them find an attorney, fight the charges and navigate the difficult days ahead. Remember that their future may be on the line. Letting them know that you’re there for them no matter what can help them remain rational and calm while they’re making important decisions about their case.

It’s not your job to investigate and gather evidence, but there is some helpful information you can compile for an attorney. Note the date, time and location of the arrest. Ask the arresting officer or police for a rundown of the specific charges your loved one is facing. 


Be careful about speaking with your family member or friend about the arrest or the case. In a jail or police station, there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. So, your conversation is likely being recorded. The things they say can potentially be used against them or taken out of context. So, only ask about very basic information for their attorney to work with.

Under the Fifth Amendment, anyone accused of a crime has the right to remain silent and have an attorney represent them.


However, until the right to an attorney has been invoked, the police can ask your family member any questions they want and employ interrogation tactics that could elicit information that you might not want the police to have.


From the start, remind your friend to tell the police that they want an attorney and will not be speaking with them until they are represented.

Since they’ve been arrested, it may be difficult for your loved one to get in touch with an attorney, let alone the best one for the job. You can find a criminal defense lawyer by asking people you trust for recommendations, using a simple Google search or relying on an online attorney database. 

There’s a lot riding on your family member’s criminal case, so take some time to research, read reviews and consider a few options. Once you’ve identified an attorney you think may be a good fit, contact them and request immediate assistance.

An arraignment is a preliminary hearing where charges are read, your loved one enters a plea and a judge decides whether they will be released or held in lieu of bail. You’ll want to make sure that you’ve hired a criminal defense lawyer to represent your family member before this step in the criminal process. 


The attorney can file motions to have evidence thrown out or to get the charges dropped entirely. If the judge denies these early motions, the attorney can advocate to have your family member released on their own recognizance, citing factors that demonstrate their ties to the community and limited threat to others.

If your loved one is facing serious criminal charges, has a lengthy criminal record or is believed to be a flight risk, a judge may require them to remain in custody in lieu of bail. Bail is essentially collateral that’s paid in exchange for a defendant’s release from custody to ensure that they show up for future hearings and their trial.

To satisfy bail requirements, a friend or family member such as yourself typically has to post bond. Depending on the amount of bail that’s set, you can pay this yourself or work with a local bail bondsman. Typically, a bail bondsman will post bond on your behalf in exchange for 10 percent of the total amount of bail. This 10 percent is non-refundable, but it gets your loved one released.

What to Do if Your Loved One Has Mental Health Issues, Physical Illnesses or Disabilities

An arrest can be particularly scary if your family member struggles with mental health issues, a physical illness or a disability. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to support them and ensure their safety while they are in custody.

Mental Health Issues

If you are there at the time of the arrest, inform the arresting officer about your family member’s mental health issues. Be sure to ask where they are being taken so that you can contact the facility.

When you contact the facility, ask to speak with the watch commander and explain the situation. Detail your family member’s condition and diagnosis, and explain any behavior that could be cause for concern.

Once you’ve spoken with someone at the police station or jail, send a fax or bring documentation of the mental health issue to the facility.

Take the time to contact your family member’s treating psychologist or psychiatrist. They may be able to visit your family member at the facility and offer support and guidance and explain the condition and any needs to the police in greater detail.

Handcuffed person

A physical disability can make an arrest more complicated. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the police must provide “reasonable accommodations” for suspects and defendants with disabilities, including emergency medical attention when necessary.

However, these accommodations will only be made if the police are made aware of a person’s disability. Advocate for your family member and let the police know that they struggle with a documented disability. Explain the disability and provide insight into what kind of help and assistance they may require while they’re in custody.

Illnesses or Diseases

Inform the police immediately if your family member has an illness or disease, especially if it is contagious or requires close monitoring or medical care. Just because they’ve been arrested doesn’t mean that they lose the right to medical treatment, but they must request assistance to get it.

What If They Need Medication?

First, inform the police about your loved one’s specific condition and explain that they have been prescribed medication for treatment or management of symptoms. You may then be permitted to bring the medication to the holding facility or jail in its original packaging, along with documentation. The police may call your loved one’s physician or the pharmacy where the medication was filled to verify its authenticity and use.

If a Minor is Arrested

If a child is arrested for suspicion of a crime, they have the same rights as adults—and more. Children must be read their Miranda Rights and told that they have the right to remain silent. If children are not Mirandized, any conversations between them and the police will be inadmissible as evidence in court.

Children also have the right to have their parents present during police interactions and interrogations. Police must make a reasonable effort to locate and contact a minor’s parent(s) if the child asks for them. However, children can be interviewed without a parent or attorney present (with very limited exceptions, such as children under the age of 13 facing charges for sexual assault or homicide).

You can prepare for this by telling your child to ask for you and an attorney immediately upon arrest, and also convey this request to the police yourself.

Children are generally not detained for extended periods of time. However, it is important to know that the police have the right to take your child to a county jail, fingerprint them, photograph them and hold them for up to six hours. While at an adult facility, children must be separated from adults.

If your child is detained, the police must make an effort to notify a parent or guardian. Additionally, a hearing must be held within six to 24 hours, depending on the child’s age.

What if a Parent of a Minor Is Arrested?

It depends on who else is present at the time of the parent’s arrest. If another parent or responsible family member, such as a grandparent, is present, the child can be left in their care.

If no other parent or guardian is present, the police should make a reasonable effort to contact a guardian or responsible adult to pick up the child. The child may be moved into the temporary custody of DCF until a family member can be reached. If there’s no family member or trusted adult to care for the child, the child may be placed in temporary foster care until the parent’s criminal case is resolved.

What to Do if a Loved One Is Being Mistreated in Jail

If you suspect that your family member is being mistreated or abused in prison, it’s important to take prompt action. File a complaint directly with the facility. You can call or go and make your complaint to the administration in person.

You can also contact the Department of Corrections for your state directly and report the misconduct or mistreatment.

If your loved one has a mental health issue or disability, you can reach out to the representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in your state.

a man who has been arrested and is seated in a police station

Know Their Rights

The Constitution provides certain protections for individuals who are suspected of or have been accused of a crime. It’s important for your friend and family to fully understand the scope of these protections so that they are not infringed.

The police are required to inform an individual of their rights when they are arrested.

These rights are commonly referred to as Miranda Rights:

If your loved one is not read their rights before they are taken into custody and questioned, statements made to the police cannot be introduced as evidence against them.

Your family member also has the right to know the names and badge numbers of the police they’ve interacted with and what crimes they’ve been charged with.

Finally, your loved one has the right to make a phone call as soon as practicable after arriving at the police station. The opportunity to make this call is typically given once booking procedures (fingerprinting, pictures, safety checks) have been completed.

If you suspect that your loved one’s rights have been violated, speak with an attorney. Proof of violations can be used to get evidence thrown out or charges (or entire cases) dismissed. Additionally, violations can give arrestees the right to bring a civil claim for damages against a police officer or government agency.

Working With Attorneys

It’s important to make sure that your family member is represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney. Getting an attorney involved early in the process is extremely beneficial. An attorney can identify potential violations of their rights, challenge the grounds for their stop and/or arrest and help navigate this difficult time.

How do you pick the best attorney for the case?

Ask friends and family members for recommendations. They may have had the need for a criminal defense attorney or know someone who has.

If no one has an attorney to recommend, you can turn to the internet for help. Perform a Google search for “[location] criminal defense lawyer” or just “criminal defense lawyer near me.”

If you know what kind of charges your loved one is up against, you can get even more specific. For instance, if they were picked up on a drug charge, you can find attorneys who handle a lot of drug crime cases by searching for a “drug crime lawyer in [location]” or some variation of that.

Check out the results and read through the information attorneys have on their websites. Does it resonate with you?

When choosing an attorney, consider:

Take some time to read through online reviews—on the attorney’s website, on Google and on other platforms, like Avvo or Justia. You can get a sense of how former clients feel about the representation they received, which can offer some insight into the attorney’s skills and ability to help your family.

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential attorneys, schedule a free consultation. You can take advantage of this opportunity to learn about your loved one’s criminal case and get a better sense of whether the attorney is a good fit.

mark o’mara