Information and Toolkits

FAQs: Dos and don’ts after arrest

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You should seek professional legal advice from a lawyer qualified to practice in the jurisdiction you are in.

I have been arrested. What should I do?

Know your rights

Your rights upon arrest will depend on the laws and practices of the country you have been arrested in. Your first step after arrest must be to get information about these rights:

  • Ask arresting officers to explain your rights to you.
  • Ask for a written statement of your rights. This may not always be available because not every country provides written information on rights.
  • When necessary, ask questions to clarify your rights with the arresting officer, or your lawyer when you speak to them.  For example, you should ask:
    • Do I have a right to a lawyer? Will the state provide me with a lawyer and pay for this?
    • When can I see my lawyer?
    • Do I have a right to remain silent during police interrogation? Could my silence be used against me in the criminal proceedings, for example, referred to at my trial?
    • Do I have a right to contact my family?
    • How long can I be held by the police before I will be taken before a judge?

If you do not speak the same language as the arresting officer, you should ask to have your rights explained to you in a language you understand and ask if you have a right to a state-funded interpreter and to a translation of all (or some) written documents from the time of your arrest.

If you were arrested outside your own country, your consulate or embassy should be notified of your arrest. You should clarify the following with arresting officers:

  • Has your embassy been notified of your arrest?
  • If not, when and how will your embassy be notified of your arrest?
  • Can you contact your embassy?
  • Will they be allowed to visit you?

Share important details of your arrest with friends and/or family

If you can contact your family, make sure you tell them anything important, including:

  • Date and place of arrest;
  • Where you are being detained (include your prisoner number if possible);
  • The names of arresting officers (if possible);
  • The reason for your arrest and charges against you;
  • Important dates and time-limits in your case (see below); and
  • The name and contact details of your lawyer (if you have one) and of your consular representative (if applicable).

Please note: In some countries you may not be able to share this information with family members. If this is the case, pass these details on to someone you can trust to forward to your family (this may include your prison social worker, your consular representative, or your lawyer).

Get a lawyer

The single most crucial thing to do after arrest is to obtain legal advice from a competent local lawyer. Don’t rush into appointing a specific lawyer on the advice of anyone with a vested interest in the case. Please refer to the toolkit ‘How to Instruct a Lawyer and Prepare a Defence’ for further guidance. You may wish to ask your family and friends to help you find a good lawyer. If you have been arrested outside your own country, your embassy may also be able to help by, for example, providing you with a list of local lawyers who speak your language.

Make the most of the time with your lawyer

Take full advantage of the first meeting with your lawyer and ask them all relevant questions as soon as you have an opportunity to speak to them. Do not wait until your next meeting with a lawyer, even if they say they will visit you again soon. It can be helpful to write down the questions beforehand and make notes of the answers during your meeting. Check with your lawyer if these notes could be taken by police or prison officials and used against you.

Give your lawyer all the information you think will help with your defence and ask them what other information will make your case stronger.

Make your lawyer aware of any evidence that may need to be preserved before it is lost (for example CCTV evidence, flight records or hotel records). You should also tell your lawyer if there are any witnesses who can support your defence as soon as possible, especially if they live outside the country where you have been arrested.

Use an interpreter

If you do not speak the local language, do not rely on your own knowledge of the language unless you are completely fluent. Tell the arresting officers and your lawyer that you need an interpreter.

Some countries provide state-funded interpreters for people who have been arrested. You should ask your lawyer, or the arresting officers, if the state will provide you with one. If one is not provided for you by the state, you may need to get a privately funded interpreter (your consulate may be able to provide you with a list).

Ask family and friends to assist you with this immediately. You must ensure the interpreter is independent and, ideally, professionally qualified.

Be wary of people who are not professional and independent interpreters when they offer to interpret for you.

Do not take legal advice from interpreters or let them influence the way your case progresses. You should base all your decisions on advice from your lawyer, even if you have to wait for this advice.

I have been asked to sign documents in a language I do not understand – should I sign?

Never sign blank pages.

Never sign a document written in a language you do not fully understand.

Ask for a translation of all documents you are requested to sign. Ideally you should get a written translation and you should only sign the translated document.

However, many countries do not grant foreign detainees a right to receive documents in a language that they understand. If you are in a country which does not provide translated copies of all legal papers and you have no alternative but to sign a document in a foreign language, then you should do the following:

  • Ensure there is a professional and independent interpreter you trust who can translate a document orally (i.e. read it to you in a language you understand) before you sign it;
  • Make sure you write next to the signature that you did not understand the content of the document; and
  • If you are unhappy with the translation of what you said, then make sure any signature makes clear that you feel this is not an accurate transcript of the interview or your comments.

Be aware that arresting officers may intimidate and misinform suspects in order to make them sign documents in a foreign language which may even be a confession.

Be wary of fellow prisoners

Fellow prisoners can be a great source of comfort. However, in some cases, other prisoners may lie to you or, even with the best intentions, give you incorrect information they have received from an unreliable source. They may also pass sensitive information on to the police in exchange for a reduction in their sentence. As a general rule, do not share information about your case with fellow prisoners or rely on any legal advice they give you.

What information should I share with the police?

Be very careful about any information you share with police officers. In many countries, everything you say may be used against you, so think before you speak.

Wherever possible, make sure you understand the reason for your arrest before you say anything to the police.

In some countries, the police are not allowed to answer your questions. They might also be allowed to say things which have not been confirmed or may not be entirely correct in order to coax you into revealing incriminating information. Always confirm what arresting officers tell you with your lawyer.

If you have a right to remain silent and your silence cannot be used against you in court, you should wait until you have seen or spoken to a lawyer before saying anything to the police.

How will I know what I am accused of?

In many countries, the police will inform you of the allegations against you when you are arrested. If you are unsure of the reason for your arrest you should:

  • Ask the police what you are being accused of, and ask for them to give you this information in writing, in a language you understand. Not all countries provide you with written information about the accusations. In some countries you will only be informed of the allegations against you after a certain period of time; and
  • If the police have not decided to formally charge you, make sure you ask how long the police are allowed to hold you while they decide whether to continue the case.

What information should I seek from arresting officers if I have not seen a lawyer?

You may wish to ask:

  • When you can see a lawyer and whether the state will provide one;
  • When you are first scheduled to go to court;
  • Whether you will be held by the police before you go to court; and
  • How long you can legally be held by the police before:
    • They formally tell you what the allegations are against you; and
    • Your trial begins.

If they intend to keep you detained, you may wish to ask:

  • When you will appear in court for a judge to review the police decision to keep you in custody;
  • Whether the investigation against you is complete and, if not, when it will be completed; and
  • Your rights (See the first section above for further guidance).

Make sure you pass this information on to your lawyer, your family and anyone else who is assisting you. In some countries the police officers are not allowed to answer your questions. It is also possible that they may say something which is not entirely accurate. Always check with your lawyer to confirm if whatever the arresting officers told you is correct.

I have been arrested abroad, and a representative from my consulate is coming to visit me. What should I do?

Ask your prison officer or your consulate to arrange a private visit with your consular representative so that no member of the police is present. This may not always be possible, but it is worth asking.

If your first meeting is not held in private, and you want to discuss matters of a sensitive nature, ask your consular official to arrange a private visit in the future or ask your family to request a private visit for you. In some countries a private visit may not be permitted.

Make sure you inform the visiting consular officer of any mistreatment (see the section below called ‘What should I do if I have been tortured or mistreated by the police?’).

If you have been mistreated, ask your consular officer to arrange for you to visit a doctor in private to document your injuries. If this is not possible, make sure you show your injuries to the consular official.

Give your consular official the name and contact details of your family members, and your lawyer, and ask the official how often they will visit and what other assistance they can provide to you. The official might need you to name a family member/friend to whom they can pass information about you. Ensure that you make it clear to the official that you would like them to exchange information about you with your nominated family member, even if the official does not ask.

Inform the consular officials of any other welfare issues and in particular inform them of any medical conditions or medicines you need.

Ask your consular official to provide you with information about all the organisations that can help you. You should also ask them to contact an organisation which can provide welfare support to prisoners detained abroad.

What should I do if I have been tortured or mistreated by the police?

Keep as much evidence of your torture or mistreatment as possible (for example photographs, medical records etc).

Ask to see a prison doctor and show them any injuries resulting from the mistreatment and ask them to make a record of them.

Tell your family (or friend) and your lawyer when you speak to them and ask them to keep a record.

If you have been arrested abroad, tell your consular official, and show them any evidence you possess of mistreatment. Ask them to keep a record of this information.

I have health issues or need medical assistance. What should I do?

Inform the prison officials and ask to visit a doctor or a hospital.

Ask your consular representative to help you arrange a visit to a doctor or a hospital. Write a letter to your consulate if no one comes to visit you.

Tell your lawyer and ask them to arrange a medical visit.

If you have been arrested abroad, ask your family to inform your consulate and give them details of the medical assistance you need.

What should I do next?

It is vital that you start preparing your defence as soon as possible after arrest. Do not rely on the police to correct misunderstandings themselves or to conduct a thorough investigation. You should use everything at your disposal to prepare your defence as soon as possible.

Take measures to preserve any evidence which may be lost. If you are in custody, ask your lawyer or your family members to do this. You should also:

Consider what other kinds of support you might need, such as: assistance from an organisation involved in criminal justice or prisoner welfare or help from your political representative (please refer to ‘Getting Support for your Case’ for further guidance).