Crime and Traffic

Legally Informed: My family member has been arrested

If your family member has been arrested, it can be overwhelming and upsetting, but there are steps you can take to help the family member and yourself. You may be the first line of defense for your loved one if you receive a call that they need help.

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Ohio Legal Help seeks to make the justice system more accessible so that people feel empowered to resolve their legal problems. Our blog series, Legally Informed, will help you understand the next steps if you or a family member has a legal issue.

In this blog, we’ll cover what to do if your family member has been arrested. This can be overwhelming and upsetting, but there are steps you can take to help the family member and yourself. You may be the first line of defense for your loved one if you receive a call that they need help.

We spoke with Tim Young, Director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, who told us the most important information to know and what to do if your loved one has been arrested.

What is the first and most important thing a family member should do if their loved one is arrested?

Tim Young (TY): It is dependent on the moment in time, but if you are on the phone with your loved one who has been arrested, please remind them of their constitutional rights. People may try to convince them that they should not remain silent, but it is their right, and they should remain silent. It is not the right moment as the family member to be asking the question “What did you do?” Remind them that talking to the police is not in their best interest at this moment.

Be mindful that every phone call is recorded and reviewed, not just the initial call where you find out your loved one is in jail. Every single call can be used against your loved one, so be careful about what you communicate. Additionally, all letters are read and reviewed.

The next thing you should figure out with your loved one has to do with posting bond. As hard as it may be, it might not be a good idea to bond them out instantly. It’s possible that if you wait for them to go to court, the judge could potentially lower (or raise) the bond. Initially a book bond is set, which is the bond set because of the charge. Judges have some discretion to change it, and they will consider the safety of the community and what amount of money will ensure the person returns to court. However, no matter whether the judge increases or decreases the bond, 10 percent of the bond will go to the bondsman if you cannot pay the bond up front and you will not get that money back. It’s important to consider all your options.

How can they find where their loved one is being held?

TY: If you aren’t sure where your family member or loved one is being held, the best place to start is to call the county jail where you think they are. However, if you’re not sure which county they are in, it could prove to be a challenge to find them. They may also still be at the police department, which could also be difficult to track down since there are over 800 police departments in the state of Ohio. If you receive a call from your loved one, be sure to ask them where they are or where they will be.

What should someone expect while waiting in jail?

TY: Most people who are arrested end up in the county jail they were arrested in. Booking day is what people would consider the most offensive part of the process because you will be searched, typically strip searched and it can sometimes involve a cavity search. You will receive jail clothes if you aren’t going to arraignment immediately, and you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and put into a holding area. The holding area is more communal, and you typically would not be in that area for more than 12 to 24 hours. Smaller jails do not always have holding areas, in which case you would go straight to a cell.

How should they go about handling medication or other medical needs?

TY: The person who has been arrested needs to advocate for themselves respectfully, ask to see the nurse, and explain their medical need or situation. However, the reality is that sometimes when the prescription is transferred over to the jail it will be in a less expensive form or a slightly different medication. Not always, but sometimes. Depending on the condition someone is in at the time of arrest, they also may have to follow up about their medication and it may take time to get it.

As a family member, you can go online to the county jail website – nearly all of them have one and look at the Frequently Asked Questions section on the site. There will be guidelines for you to get the medication to your loved one. One of the common rules is that the medication must be in the container from the pharmacy which has their name on it and is a valid and current prescription. Some jails, however, will not accept any outside medications and in that case, you should contact the jail’s medical unit to provide the prescription information.

What should they do if they have a mental health issue or concern?

TY: As a family member, it can be even more important to advocate for your loved one who has been arrested. Prior to, during or after the arrest, there may have been decompensation due to the stress involved. The loved one may not be able to advocate for themselves, so it is important that you try to help. If they have a mental health provider such as a counselor or therapist, contact them to let them know where they are. The provider may be able to offer verification of your loved one’s condition, but it is still difficult. Unfortunately, there are not many options for mental health counseling or treatment while in jail.

How should they handle informing their employer?
TY: This is a delicate issue because it really is dependent on the relationship between the employee and the employer. As the family member and if you do not know what the relationship is, call and let them know your loved one can't come in to work. There is no obligation to tell your employer (unless you are in the military and other special circumstances) if you have been arrested, but it is public record so you should be aware that you could still be let go. Many people lose their jobs while they are in jail, and many employers won’t touch you with a felony charge or conviction. Also, if you are in jail and you call someone, including your employer, they will know you are calling from jail because of the automated message that plays at the beginning.

How should they handle informing a landlord or other people they may need to pay money to?
TY: This is also dependent upon the relationship, and much like jobs, people often lose their housing while they are in jail. A landlord is going to want to know if you are going to continue paying them, and eviction is common when someone goes to jail. The sad truth is that even a short stint like 2-3 days in jail can destabilize someone completely.

What should they do if they feel a loved one is being mistreated?

TY: If your family member is being mistreated by other inmates, you can call the jail and report the issue. It’s important to be respectful when reporting mistreatment but know that your loved one may not want to report it for safety reasons. After you report the issue, the jail can move your loved one to a different area.

If the mistreatment is coming from a jail employee, that is a really difficult situation. Even if you call the prosecutor, the police, or the FBI, there is going to be this presumption of “well, what did your loved one do?” You must have overwhelming evidence to do anything about it. If they have an attorney, make sure to collect evidence by taking photos of injuries. I’d also recommend the person in jail lay as low as possible.

How should they contact an attorney or public defender?

TY: Ohio’s counties are diverse, and the defense system used by each county is determined by the local board of county commissioners. Each county varies in their system whether that is a county public defender office, not-for-profit corporation, court-appointed counsel, or the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. To check which type of service your county has, you can view our map.

If you’re in a public defender system, you can submit a written request for one. If you’re in an appointed counsel system, you will get a lawyer appointed to your case and you will not see them before the first court appearance typically.

Should the family member attend the arraignment?

TY: The family member should absolutely attend the arraignment. As a lawyer, being able to point to the family member in the courtroom can make a difference in whether they are still held in jail. Courts often do not see family involvement so when they do, it can be a positive measure. At the same time, family members need to be realistic. If your loved one is being charged with something severe it may not make a difference.

As the family member attending, you will also be able to hear what is going on, what will happen next, and you can take down the information of the lawyer assigned to the case.

Anything else a family member should know?

TY: When in doubt, you should check the jail’s website to find out other answers to FAQs. For example, all jails have a way for you to put money on an account so that your loved one can purchase a few things while in jail. You can also find out information about when visitation happens.

Timothy Young

Timothy Young

Timothy Young has been the Ohio Public Defender since Jan. 1, 2008, after serving as a county public defender for 14 years. He has led reform efforts for indigent defense in Ohio and is responsible for creating the Ohio Wrongful Conviction Project, a non-DNA exoneration project. Tim is a founder and former chair of the National Association for Public Defense. He also serves as vice-chair on the Criminal Justice Recodification Committee, and as a member of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission and the Task Force on Access to Justice. Tim previously served as chair and vice chair of the American Council of Chief Defenders, and on the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio's Death Penalty, the Task Force on Funding of Ohio Courts, the Access to Justice Task Force, and the Rule 8 subcommittee. He has tried numerous cases throughout his career, ranging from misdemeanors to homicide cases. Tim received his B.A. and his J.D. from the University of Dayton. He has devoted his career to serving the indigent population of our society.