What happens if you're arrested when out, but you've left the oven on?
March 19, 2015 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Just say you're down at the shops buying milk and bread and you do something to get arrested, or you get arrested for something you did years ago... either way, you're arrested. What happens if you need to deal with something important but you can't because you're gonna be locked up for the next little while?

What happens if you've left your house unlocked, or the oven on, or you've got to pick up your kids that afternoon from school, or the sprinkler system in your garden is still on because you thought you'd be back in 15 minutes? Or if your car's in a one hour parking spot? I'm sure you can imagine other situations where you may have to deal with something before going away for a while.

Do the police take you back home briefly to lock up/turn off the oven/turn off the sprinkler system? Call the school on your behalf and arrange a taxi/police escort for your kid? Do they let you move your car or do they contact a towing company to return your car to your home while you're in jail? Or do they just say 'tough luck' and make you deal with the consequences when you get out?
posted by UltraFleece to Law & Government (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you live in a really small town or a really nice neighborhood, my sense is nobody's likely to give you any dispensation besides a phone call at the point where you're already arrested.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:12 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

From what I've heard (my sister was arrested in Lucas County, Ohio a few years ago), the system doesn't care, and if nobody knows you've gone missing it could be several days before you manage to contact the outside world (that "you get one phone call" is kind of "when and where it's convenient").
posted by straw at 12:12 PM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

"Do they let you move your car or do they contact a towing company to return your car to your home while you're in jail?"--No, they tow your car to an impound lot where you have to pay towing and storage fees before you get your car back.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:16 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure there's no obligation for them to do anything about the state of your life if being arrested interrupts something important or otherwise disrupts things. That said, it seems to be something that is at an individual officer's/precinct's/locality's discretion.

For example, in a recent episode of This American Life, they describe a woman being arrested for threatening a neighbor with a gun. She is arrested at home, and the cops let her put on different clothes and contact someone to care for her kids.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:18 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Children needing care is the only thing on that list they might possibly care about. Here is some guidelines from New Mexico, but how much of that actually gets done will be very variable. It might just end up on the school/wherever else your kid is to find care for them.
posted by brainmouse at 12:18 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

But overall it varies. Generally the nicer you are the more you can do. I've been in situations where the cops let me make two or three calls (and receive calls) while denying someone else the same courtesy because they weren't cooperating very well. They might even let you move your car so that it's legally parked. Or not. They won't take you home--too easy for you to get a weapon or escape.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

In most countries, you will be given the opportunity to talk to your lawyer after your arrest. It's her job to listen to the arrestee's worries, and delegate their solution to the arrestee's family / friends.
posted by Ghislain Bellec at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think a lot of this also depends on what you're being arrested for, and how sympathetic a figure you present.
posted by corb at 12:23 PM on March 19, 2015

I've met lots of people through my work who have lost everything when they got arrested and their rooming house landlord tossed everything out except what they sold for rent owed. So the person gets out of jail weeks or months later and they have only the clothes on their backs. No ID, no nothing.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:23 PM on March 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

The system usually does not care. The system is largely set up so that an arrest is itself a form of de facto punishment whether you are guilty or not. Even in the cases of false arrest or mistaken arrest, there is almost never any recourse for losing your job because you did not show, for housing that was lost because rent was unpaid, for sick or dead pets who were not cared for, for cars that were towed or stolen because you left them for long lengths unattended, and, incredibly, for children who are put into emergency foster care because their parents did not pick them up.

In California (as of 2007): "The law does not require the arresting officers to let you make arrangements for your child at the time of arrest. ... If you're unable to make a call, ask the first attorney assigned to you to get a court order allowing you to make emergency phone calls to locate your child and arrange for her care." The stories of parents who had to battle for days, weeks, or months to get children back from temporary state or county care after an arrest and release are legion.

This kind of inconvenience happens in part because many within the system assume arrestees are guilty, whether they are convicted or not, and therefore use the bureaucracy to mete out unofficial punishment because it's a small power they can wield.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2015 [51 favorites]

Yeah, the short answer is "it depends." If you're an upstanding citizen arrested for a DUI in a small town, you very well might get a chance to get some (small) affairs in order. But very often the cops have little regard for the collateral consequences, which is why someone could be arrested and eventually released and still manage to lose their housing (didn't get rent in this month? too bad) employment (didn't show up for work and didn't call in? too bad) etc. etc.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:28 PM on March 19, 2015

To clarify a little: a lot of it tends to rely on whether or not they think you will voluntarily return to be arrested later - thus whether you are an 'upstanding citizen'. If you have a lot of community ties, you may be released on your own recognizance to return later. If you are a low-income person who has moved around a lot, you will probably stay in jail. This also affects conviction rates.
posted by corb at 12:31 PM on March 19, 2015

To some extent the "you get one phone call" thing is a media myth [e.g.]. Most jails will have some kind of phone access and once you're processed in you can use it first-come, first-served, with whatever time limitations and guard availability applies.

There might still be precinct-house lockups where you get stuck prior to arraignment, but for the most part your jail is going to be some kind of central facility. And there may still be massive, outdated urban jails like the ones you see in movies with 15 people in a holding cell and one phone for all 150 people on a floor and one guard to walk them there at a time, etc. And given stories that are out about Chicago's interrogation facility and the piers used by the NYPD during mass arrests, yes, you can be semi-deliberately lost in the system in some cases. I wouldn't think that would often happen when you're out just minding your own business, though.

I will say that I imagine there are still many cases where someone is arrested when they are on their own in some circumstance, but many of the arrests I see in my neighborhood happen when a person has others around, either at the address, in the car, or walking with them, and what I very often see is family members and others showing up well before the person gets hauled away, sometimes even before there's an actual arrest and handcuffing, because the cops are taking their time asking questions of witnesses and such. It's enhanced by cell phones and text messages and social media, so there's often a mini-flash-mob effect.

I will also note, without trying to make it a judgmental thing, that a lot of folks who get arrested seem to be in a more communal living arrangement. Thus the availability of intermediaries may be more common than you think.

Very pertinent to your question is the Kelly Reichardt film Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams as a young woman trapped by circumstances that include her dog being taken to the pound when she is arrested.
posted by dhartung at 12:53 PM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

I had a neighbor (in the US) who got taken in for something (old DUIs I think, not like he tried to kill someone) and immediately locked up for several months. I got a call from him, from jail, asking if I could lock up his house, toss out all his old food and make sure the thermostat was down. He'd gotten someone else to take his dogs for him. They would have run away or starved otherwise.

Generally speaking, depending on your situation, these are your problems to solve and they are one of the things that makes institutionalized poverty and disproportionate arrests of black/latino people exceptionally bad. It's not just that getting arrested for something you didn't do sucks, but that also there's a ton of collateral damage from these sorts of petty harrassments that can have longer lasting repercussions than the arrest itself.

In real life what tends to happen around here is, like dhartung says, people have friends and family who are aware of the arrest at the time and who handle the immediate stuff like getting people's cars home and kids to a relative's place.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

In most countries, you will be given the opportunity to talk to your lawyer after your arrest. It's her job to listen to the arrestee's worries, and delegate their solution to the arrestee's family / friends.

This is definitely not necessarily the case. Access to a lawyer, even in countries where it's constitutionally guaranteed, is by no means a given. My coworkers regularly deal with situations (in developing countries) where, for example, juveniles are detained for weeks without their parents' knowledge of their whereabouts.

(Interestingly, in India (and probably other places as well), women with young children are permitted to take those children with them to jail/prison and care for them there. This is sometimes the best thing for all involved.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:10 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

My daughter's friend was arrested (shoplifting) and had a toddler with her. They gave her 30 minutes to have someone pick up the child or the child would be turned over to DCFS. When the young woman could not reach a family member, she started calling friends. She was held until arraigned the next day and then released after 36 hours.
posted by readery at 1:13 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

You have not seen pure inexorable indifference until you've experienced the law enforcement system from the inside.
posted by rhizome at 1:52 PM on March 19, 2015 [21 favorites]

Here's a guy whose mother died after his arrest for DUI because he was her sole caretaker.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:55 PM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

I read of a case where the cops broke down a door to make the arrest, and left the premises unsecured.

Call your lawyer? Who has a lawyer? You gonna call a tax attorney? I suppose everyone should have the name/number of a criminal defense attorney in his wallet, just in case.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having been on ride-alongs with cops and paid close attention to law enforcement chatter, the answer (as noted above) totally depends on a) how nice the arresting officers feel like being; b) The totally cynical estimation of whether doing what the arrestee wants or refusing his request will cause more trouble for the arresting officer.
For instance, if the arrestee makes a convincing case that there are kids alone, the cops will likely follow up on that if only to ensure they don't make the news later. But they're not gonna give you ANY sympathy if you were a mouthy or violent arrest.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience in a US metro area, is that for something that presents a serious safety risk, like the oven being left on or kids being left alone, there's a good chance the officers will deal with it. No one wants a major fire in the city. For things that fall short of that, you're probably on your own. I've had to personally go to someone's house to get a dog some food after the person was taken into custody unexpectedly. For things like a sprinkler system or your car being towed, the system as I'm familiar with it does not care.
posted by bepe at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2015

Most programs/schools have a policy where they go through your emergency contact list and then call CPS if all else fails. The police would probably call CPS, if they did anything at all, so it's probably better if the program/school follows through. I would imagine most officers would do something about the childcare aspect, but it probably means a call to CPS.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2015

When you finally are able to make a call, you should expect that you will only be able to dial local numbers and non-cell phone numbers (the "will you accept a call from a prisoner" phone system excludes cell phones). 800 numbers also work, so if you have a commercial collect call service memorized, and your credit card number memorized, you can call people that way. Also be sure to memorize your friends' numbers, because you won't have your cell phone contact list.

This is why you see protesters writing phone numbers on their arms with sharpies. If you have a card with your lawyer's phone number, the cops will often confiscate it before letting you make the call. Because ha ha fuck you.

Anyway, that's how it was usually set up 10 years ago, anyway. Not sure if it's the same today. In general, the system is designed to prevent you from easily making contact with the outside. The police probably find this helpful because it ups the anxiety of prisoners waiting to be interviewed.
posted by ryanrs at 2:51 PM on March 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

Unfortunately, whether or not the police believe you're an "upstanding citizen" depends a lot on things like race. There was recently a case (CW: racism, police abuse, racist language, child abuse) where a woman called the police to teach her sons a lesson about stealing after one took $10 from her purse. The children were taken with her to the station when she was arrested and spent 4 months in foster care where they suffered neglect.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

If it's something that only concerns your own welfare, like your car, it will be tough luck and you will be paying towing and impound fees. If it's something that impacts other innocent parties, like your kids or your neighbors ( the threat of fire in the example you gave with the oven) they will likely follow up to prevent some sort of disaster.
posted by vignettist at 3:13 PM on March 19, 2015

Yeah, this is a big part of the reason that an arrest, even for a small crime, even if you're innocent, even if you're eventually exonerated, can ruin a person's life. This is why, for example, it's a big deal when a state decriminalizes marijuana (reducing simple possession from an arrestable offense to a ticket you can go to court later to pay at your convenience) because that's thousands of people who aren't suddenly ripped from their homes without access to their ovens or their parked cars or their babies.

This is really only a problem for poor people. First because they get arrested much, much more than rich people, and they're almost never allowed to get their affairs in order and turn themselves in like white collar criminals get to. But second because they don't have a safety net. They don't have a lawyer on speed dial, and they can't pay a sitter to watch their kids, and they can't pay towing fees on their cars. Heck, there are thousands of people, right this second, sitting in jails all across America, for weeks or months on end, because they can't come up with $500 to give to a bail bondsman to front a $5,000 bond, and so they don't get released. Those people's lives are often ruined, whether or not they broke any law.

Many poor people who get arrested get fired when they don't show up for work the next day, because unlike white collar jobs, shift-work jobs don't worry about you and send someone to check up on you if you suddenly disappear; they just replace you. Many poor people who get arrested get evicted, because if you don't pay your rent because you didn't work that month as much as you expected to, your landlord evicts you, especially if your landlord doesn't want "criminals" living in the building. Many poor people who get arrested lose their possessions, because the police will absolutely arrest you and then "forget" your bags by the side of the road when they take you in, or you'll find it difficult or impossible to reclaim items they took from you incident to arrest (in one memorable circumstance, a person I knew couldn't get his stuff out of the police locker because he didn't have a photo ID, because his photo ID was in the police locker, and the officer on duty refused to look for it to verify that it was him). Many poor people who get arrested lose their kids, because CPS gets called when no one comes to pick them up from school, and then in addition to trying to fight your criminal case, you have to prove to CPS that you're a fit parent despite the fact that you're accused of stealing or smoking weed or whatever, and you "abandoned" your kids. Many poor people who get arrested lose their cars, because by the time they get out of jail, the fines and fees they'd have to pay to get the car out of the tow lot is more money than they have, and sometimes more money than the car is worth.

Police might--MIGHT--listen to you if you tell them about something you need to do that will result in other people or their property being harmed. A fire risk, an unattended child, etc. But I've seen people (lots of people, in lots of jurisdictions) arrested out of their beds at night without being allowed to put on pants. I promise you that if you are poor and get arrested, the police don't give a shit about your parking meter.
posted by decathecting at 3:16 PM on March 19, 2015 [29 favorites]

I have actually been arrested. Keep in mind this was in the United States.

I had as much reason to elicit sympathy as anyone else, aside from the fact that I didn't have kids.

No, the cops didn't give me shit. Don't expect it, because you won't get it. Your car will be towed to an impound lot, where you'll have to pay money to get it back. You cannot make a phone call. You cannot grab some medication you really need. You cannot let someone know that you won't be at work. You cannot buzz your spouse and ask them to bail you out. You cannot do anything. That's it.

The attitude of most cops is: if you did something to get a warrant out, then you forfeited the opportunity to take a few seconds to do this or that, and it's their job to take you in now.

My sense is that 99% of people in the world will be way too optimistic about how this works. When people in this thread tell you that you'll probably have a chance to move your car or text your wife, don't believe them. The police will not give you a few minutes to pull yourself together. That is not their job.

The only leeway I can imagine is, as I said, if you are actually holding a kid in your hands. But if it's (as you say) that you need to go pick them up – no. I doubt cops will care about that; if I were a cop, my reasoning would be, that kid should be in someone else's hands anyways.

Getting arrested is hell. It is a whole crazy nightmare. It is not something that is in any way convenient. And it is not something that will hold up for five minutes while you get your shit together. So don't plan on that.

And – while you didn't ask this – if you're likely to get arrested, you should make some plans, get ready, and go down there and get it over with.
posted by koeselitz at 6:42 PM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Fairly recently I was arrested on a Sunday afternoon for being very literally in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a warm day and my small dog was in my car (after the daily heat had dissipated, in the shade, with a small bowl of water, with the windows cracked)...I had only intended to be gone 5 minutes. When I was arrested I was told that I would have to stay in jail overnight (I didn't have enough cash on me to bond out and didn't know anyone in the area that I could call). I was very, very concerned about leaving her over night, especially because of obvious reasons, but also because of the predicted heat for the next day. the officer made many, many, calls and had long conversations with the other officers and eventually they let me go with the agreement that I would arrive at the police station early the next morning to report in (which gave me plenty of time to contact my lawyer/find a local lawyer/secure cash for a bond/find a place to keep my dog/etc.). Fortunately, I didn't need any of that because when I arrived the other people that were arrested had agreed that I wasn't involved and they let me leave (minutes after I arrived)....but it definitely made for an interesting vacation.
posted by AnneShirley at 1:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

In terms of getting a lawyer and having the lawyer arrange things, your right to counsel is usually tied not to your arrest per se, but to (a) being questioned, and (b) your first hearing.

In Canada, in theory, the police have to let you speak to a lawyer before they can start or continue questioning you, and this includes giving you access to a phone, and even a phone book or the local legal aid or lawyer referral service. However, if they aren't questioning you, for example if it's an old warrant or they themselves "witness" you doing the thing you're alleged to have done, the situation could be very different.

Similarly, in Canada, if you are still detained after 24 hours you are supposed to have a bail hearing, where you will theoretically have counsel, but this all depends a lot on whether you are in a remote location, if there is a holiday (they do try to get around this, for example by teleconferences), and if there is duty counsel.

Also in Canada, and I have no idea how common this is outside Canada, or indeed outside the Greater Toronto Area, the police can release a person on conditions. I'm not a criminal lawyer, but I've dealt with a fair number of people with past arrests including multiple past arrests, and this seems fairly common if the person has a family, i.e. someone to keep them in line.
posted by sarahkeebs at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hello UltraFleece, I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city, so here's an answer for you based on that.

As most people have (correctly) said, it depends. That said, there are a few things cops could get in trouble for ignoring, and children or dependents who need attention at the risk of their health would quality. That's not to say the person wouldn't still get arrested. I've had to arrest both parents on a couple of occasions. . . one time we waited around quite a while on the side of the road, pretending like nothing was going on until another guardian could show up (for the sake of the kids not realizing the parents were getting arrested). The other time it was a physical fight so the parents disappeared into police cars and the kids sat with an officer until the social service type people could show up.

I've had a staggering amount of success over the years telephoning people with warrants (who would qualify to be processed and released) and pointing out that if they show up at the courthouse at 9am, they'll likely be back out the door by 11am, with plan B being that I come looking for them at 7pm, hold them in custody overnight and send them to court the next morning. I find frankly explaining their options and the reality of what will happen usually gives people the motivation to make the right decision. That said, if the warrant is for skipping court then I assume you're going to make the wrong decision and I will just come looking wherever I think you might be.

We do have a lot of discretion when it comes to other things though, like cars. If you're arrested on the side of the road I may have a choice of how to deal with the vehicle (assuming it wasn't an impaired driving or street racing arrest with a mandatory vehicle impound).

In that case my discretion could be the difference between having the city-contracted towing company come get your car (you pay the tow fees plus about $20 a day for the storage) vs leaving the keys for a friend of the accused to pick up, or even just sitting there with the accused in the back seat until the friend shows up. Obviously if the person is screaming and fighting we're not going to be doing the later.

Oddly, a lot of people think that their problem is automatically my problem upon arrest. The number of people who refuse to give you a friend's name or suggest anyone else who might come pick up the car and leave no choice but to have it towed it amazingly high. They seem to think I'm kidding about the towing fees or that the police will end up paying it for them since we made the decision. Not true.

(Similarly in domestic violence situations I've had to tell people they have to leave the house for the for night to avoid an ongoing breach of the peace, or else come with us to jail. The number of people who claim they have no friends, no family, no acquaintances and no money for a hotel (which is the only one I can sometimes believe, although mine is not a low-income sort of town) is shockingly high.)

Often when we arrest people they don't have everything that it would be nice to have when they leave custody (shoes, wallet, house keys, etc). If you're not being violent (go directly to jail) and you're able to understand that just because I'm only looking for your keys and shoes and wallet doesn't mean I'm blind to the drugs/evidence/etc. then we'll often make an agreement that the client will allow an officer to enter their home and get their keys/wallet/shoes.

Under no circumstances am I going to let someone out of my sight to go get this stuff themselves. So if you're too shy to change in front of me we'll just bring a bag of clothing and you can change at the station. I don't care if the person is an actual Saint, being arrested is stressful and people do dumb things when they're stressed, jumping out a window or getting a gun are just two examples I've heard of actually happening. . . I don't care to find out what else might happen.

On one occasion I went really out of my way to be super nice to a suspect. He was a crazy person who we felt was on course to kill his ex and had been stalking her in a very particular way (that if I told you would be unique enough to identify me, so I won't). We also had almost no evidence and really needed this guy to confess. So when we caught him in the middle of a delivery job we waited for him to come back to the van before taking him down. We then assigned a junior officer to wait with the van until someone from his job could come get the contents, and someone else could come get the van and move it to a legal long term parking spot. We even told the boss that the suspect was "helping us out" and didn't tell anyone he'd actually been arrested, as such. All with the suspect's agreement and consent. Ironically, although he did confess, he told the detective who took his statement that us uniform guys were all big assholes who had been mean to him. So you know, no good deed goes unpunished.

When I arrest people, once I have them in the back of the police car, I always explain to them that I don't get paid anything extra to be nice, or to be an asshole. Their rights are their rights and anything else comes down to how I choose to do my job. I tell people that they next time we meet they might be the victim or a witness and I'll want their cooperation, so I'll do what I can to make being arrested as painless as possible. By the same token, if they make it clear that they think all cops are assholes and that I have nothing to gain by being nice to them, I have no problem booking them and throwing them into a cell and never thinking about them again. I don't get some little rush of power or think the accused is getting what they deserve if their car gets towed or they loose their job, I just don't even think about it at all.


Side point, I've only once ever had to arrest someone that I felt should not have been arrested or charged. It was a low quality investigation by another agency but we got the warrant and it says right on it that we are commanded in the name of the Queen. . . so not arresting the person wasn't an option. That said, we had a call in to the after-hours Judge before we arrested the person and had them on the phone for their bail hearing about 2 minutes after arriving back at the police station. We told the Judge that our position was they should be released without bail (other than to have a court date set) and drove them back home afterward. All told it was about an hour of their time. Needless to say they were very unhappy thankfully they were still cooperative, which made the whole thing go as fast as possible.
posted by BlueSock at 5:22 PM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

« Older Best Software for Tracking Time for Editorial...   |   Bespectacled? Yes, Be Very Spectacled 2: Electric... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.