One Phone Call
November 24, 2004 7:45 AM   Subscribe

"I want my phonecall!" In movies and on TV shows, the protagonist/antagonist always asks his jailers for his "one phonecall" to a lawyer. Do you really only get one phonecall? Do regular people really have a lawyer's number on them? How's this all work? (I'm not in trouble, promise)
posted by kahboom to Law & Government (13 answers total)
In the UK you get a phonecall to your solicitor and then your solicitor can arrange with the desk sergeant to family members to be notified of your arrest.

If you don't have a number of yours the police will find your solicitor out of the phonebook or you can have a duty solicitor (a 24hr service arranged to provide legal coverage out of a roster of solicitors) if you don't have one.

But that's all I've seen as an assistant to my father, who was a solicitor. I've never been locked up before so it might be a queue for the phone. But I think it depends on the mood of whoever is behind the desk at the time.
posted by Navek Rednam at 8:10 AM on November 24, 2004

You do get one phone call in my experience as part of the booking process, and they don't care who you call.

I wonder if they would allow one text message in lieu of?
posted by luser at 8:36 AM on November 24, 2004

According to a friend who was caught in a DUI roadside check and hauled in for a night in the slammer, she was not given a phone call. This distressed her even more than she was by everything else, since she all she wanted to do was get someone to look in on her dog.
posted by booth at 8:42 AM on November 24, 2004

You get really do get to make your call when you're arrested and who you call is entirely up to you. I'm not sure how it works now in the age of calling cards, but in the old days after you were booked they'd give you a quarter and a certain amount of time at a payphone. I think you could call a lawyer with your quarter and, if time permits, call family or friends collect. I was briefly a phone operator and I had one or two calls from jai every night. Usually after I'd say "collect call from..." the person would shout "I'm in jail - accept the call!!!!!".
posted by HifiToaster at 8:43 AM on November 24, 2004

The right to a "phone call" springs from the right to have an attorney of your choosing represent you. Police procedures differ, but generally they allow you to contact a lawyer--or someone who can find a lawyer for you (friend, family, etc) from jail. This isn't literally just "one phone call." If you call, and the line's busy, it's not like the police are going to say "ha ha!" and lock you up until your next court appearance. But, on the other hand, they generally restrict people to making phone calls solely for the purpose of obtaining counsel (or bail). You can't call your grandma to see how she is, call your broker to sell, call your pimp to renegotiate, etc.

I actually do carry in my PDA the number of a criminal defense attorney I'd hire if the need arose. But I am not normal. I believe that most police departments maintain lists of criminal defense attorneys (any attorney can basically be asked to be added to the list). Also, I've heard of a jail somewhere that sold advertising space to bail bondsmen and lawyers.
posted by profwhat at 8:45 AM on November 24, 2004

In my experience (in rural Texas holding cells, not actual jail), there is a movable payphone that doesn't take quarters, but costs whoever you call. It won't call cell phones, which sucks but there are no limits to how many calls you can make.
posted by amandaudoff at 9:56 AM on November 24, 2004

profwhat: You had better memorize that number -- you won't be allowed access to your PDA in the slammer. Nor, for that matter, will you have access to any of the phone numbers you programmed into your mobile phone and promptly forgot.

In other words, you'll probably have access to a telephone -- and you can likely make more than just "one call" -- but you'll have zero access to your personal phone numbers. Nor will you (probably) have access to a phonebook, although I don't know many people that still have landlines anyhow.

Trust me on this.
posted by LordSludge at 11:21 AM on November 24, 2004

when i was in jail there was a pay phone in the holding tank -- you had to call collect, so it's not like you got "one phone call", you got access to a phone, and as many calls as you damn well pleased, i'm guessing, but they weren't free (and you realize the cops take all your money in addition to your belt and your shoe laces, so you're *definitely* calling collect). I don't remember if there were any adverts for lawyers there, but I do recall some bail bonds stickers and what not.

if you're not in the holding tank? well, you got me.
posted by fishfucker at 11:55 AM on November 24, 2004

(a phone call wasn't part of the booking process for me.)
posted by fishfucker at 11:56 AM on November 24, 2004

The times I have been in jail there was a pay phone in both the holding tank during booking and in the common area after booking. I was able to make multiple calls. This was county Jail in Vista, CA
posted by tirebouchon at 11:58 AM on November 24, 2004

Kahboom, make sure you memorize a number that accepts collect calls for safe keeping. Also ymmv, cell phone #'s would not call out.

I know of several situations; first come first serve with free local calls all day, or at specific times. Phones that were pre paid, phone card or collect. Also seen it where they let you use the jailers desk phone. It all depends how nice your jailers are.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:24 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: You know, at first I figured I would have called a friend or family member and had them help me find a lawyer... But then it occurred to me that my friends and family probably don't have a clue as to who to call either...

Good call on not saving the numbers in your cellphone or PDA. My home voice mail lets me store messages; maybe one could leave the info at one's own voicemail and then dial into the inbox from jail...
posted by kahboom at 3:18 PM on November 24, 2004

Well, I can tell you that working at a bail bonding company, I am usually the first call for the defendants. They want to get the hell out of there and most of the local jails have bondsman phone lists. We accept their collect calls, but only once. During that call, we get as much information from them as possible in regards to who to call who might be able to bond them out. A lot of times they don't have all the phone numbers they need, since their possessions, including phones and pda's, are locked away in property storage, so we have to use the good old phone book. We then make as much effort as possible to get a hold of these people to get them out and make our fee. These are usually family, but can be friends or bosses. I have only had like 5 ever ask me to call their attorney first, because attorney's cannot do anything with the jailers to get them out - they have to wait to talk to a judge. The defendants must either be bonded out thru a bondsman, put up full cash escrow, or in some cases be released on their own recognizance.
posted by thatothrgirl at 3:47 PM on November 24, 2004

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