Need help/advise on an arrest made of my wife tonight
May 3, 2021 8:07 PM   Subscribe

My wife went to the local Walmart to buy a few things this evening. Apparently, something (or things) didnt scan. Walmart (or Police) - I am not clear at this time - grabbed her and booked her for shoplifting and took her to jail. There was apparently a fair amount of humiliation involved. She tried to say muliple times that she has not done anything wrong and she has been coming to this Walmart for years - but to no avail. She was arrested, brought to jail, and has an "arraignment hearing" tomorrow. We are a by-the-book law abiding South Asian family. Have been living in Collin county, Texas for 11 years now. She hasnt even had a traffic ticket in the last twenty years that she has been driving here. My wife is under a lot of pressure. She had a COVID related death in the family in India last week. Her mother died a few months back. She has blood pressure and sugar. She doesnt react well to emotionally traumatic events. To her mind - this is the worst thing that could have happened to her. If there is any way that I can try to get her out from jail tonight on bond, I would like to try it. Would greatly appreciate your help with any of the following questions: - Is there legal help/lawyers available at night in Texas (Collin county)? - Is there anyway I can try to get her out on bond tonight? - The Jail officer (when I called back) told me that the arraignment is tomorrow between 8 to 10 am (when the judge arrives) and that family or lawyers can't attend. Is that correct? - I am out of my depth in a situation like this. What else can I do? Would greatly appreciate any general advise. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Call around to find a criminal lawyer. It’s hard for this (non-criminal) lawyer to imagine that a criminal defendant is not allowed to have her lawyer present when appearing before a judge, but maybe y’all do things differently down there in Texas.
posted by spacewrench at 8:12 PM on May 3 [14 favorites]

This tends to be very locality-specific, so I hesitate to try to give more than general advice, but don't believe shit the jailhouse officers are telling you. (All criminal proceedings are presumptively public, so I find it very hard to believe that neither family nor lawyers can attend what sounds like an initial appearance.) There should be criminal defense lawyers who have phones answered 24/7. Try to find a respectable looking one. (Being very clear, I have no idea who this firm is and can't say if they're any good, but they will communicate 24/7 and they don't have obvious red flags on their site. This is not a referral or a recommendation, though.) They will be able to give you much more useful advice than anyone not practicing criminal defense in TX can, including about bail.

Except one thing: your wife should not discuss her alleged "crime" with ANYONE except her lawyer. Her phone calls from jail may be monitored. Her cellmates may snitch. The cops may seem sympathetic but they are not her friends. She needs to sit tight and wait. "I have nothing to say until I've spoken with my lawyer." Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I'm so sorry this has happened to her. It sounds terrifying.
posted by praemunire at 8:28 PM on May 3 [47 favorites]

You definitely need a criminal defense attorney ASAP. Texas, as much as times had changed, certain parts are still full of... Southern values.

My best advice so far is have your wife loudly proclaim she had no idea what's going on, and she refuse to speak any further on this matter until she sees her attorney. Even if she is fully fluent in English, it's sometimes better to play dumb, "No understand! No understand!" It can be easily chalked up to stress of the situation instead of any sort of theater.

Best of luck to her and you.
posted by kschang at 8:29 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

Call everyone you know and trust to find any kind of lawyer that they know and trust in your town, and then call them to find a lawyer who can help you right away. It doesn't matter that you are law-abiding. This is racist garbage, and I think that you might know this. I am very sorry for you and your wife. Good luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:34 PM on May 3 [14 favorites]

What a nightmare! Google “bail bond” plus your location for a local bail bondsman, and get her out of jail tonight if you possibly can.
posted by farkleberry at 8:35 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

I really have no knowledge of the legal system but I found this information related to Bonds in Collins County Texas. Link.
posted by mundo at 8:38 PM on May 3

The Texas Bar Association has a lawyer referral service if you need help finding a lawyer.
posted by shadygrove at 8:39 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Google “bail bond” plus your location for a local bail bondsman, and get her out of jail tonight if you possibly can.

Bail may not be set until she sees a judge in the morning. This is one of the things a local attorney can advise on.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Can you find out which court she will appear in?
There appears to be a Magistrate Court for the county.
The same county website also has other information including databases you can search for information on cases and defendants.
posted by calgirl at 8:47 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

This site has some info regarding attending court:

Q: Can I attend the Magistration Court?

A: No, unless you are an attorney for the inmate (at this time no one is allowed in the jail due to COVID-19 protocols). The Magistration process is available by video in the Detention Facility lobby.
posted by mundo at 8:56 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

You should call one of your representatives, if at all possible, and if you like or trust any of them. This is what they do: Sort through government agencies, almost in a social service way, to help constituents. You can find the names of your local legislators here.

You should also try to find a lawyer, tonight preferably, though I realize that may be impossible: Maybe you want a criminal lawyer, or maybe you want a civil rights lawyer. Reason it out as you go. Whoever you get, make sure they know the lay of the land, and let them do all the talking both for you and your wife. There are four different legal helplines listed at the bottom of the Texas ACLU page.

I don't pretend to be a legal expert, but I don't understand how someone can end up in jail for shop-lifting with no prior record. If your wife is charged, I don't know how the law is written down there, but at most she should get a citation because, again, no record. In fact, when I looked up your county, I found an article from two days ago on how they are currently expunging records. One of the cases they cite is for shoplifting with no prior record. If you talk to a lawyer or a politician, bring that up!

All that said, there are a lot of corrupt cops, looking for power trips, pay offs and points with their right wing friends. I used to think that most cops were good. I don't anymore, and they've brought it on themselves. USA Today did a year-long investigative report on corrupt police officers. They ended up with a database of 85,000 cops nationwide — and counting. There's a lot of academic research that backs that up: There is no self-policing. Most cops never get fired. If they commit a crime, they are rarely punished. Trump unleashed a whole lot of hate, which doesn't help either. The combination is lethal, but the one reassuring thing I can say is a majority of Americans now agree: A new poll suggests the public is looking to Congress to act on police reform.

A few years ago, I heard the legal commentator Emily Bazelon say something like if there was a crime to report, she would never go to the police. She reads as very wholesome white Anglo Saxon American. She is a steadfast liberal, but not extreme in any way. I was naive then, and shocked by her commentary. But since then I've done significant research and have had much more exposure. Now I agree with her.

A big hug to both you and your wife.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:12 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]

I am not a lawyer and if lawyer wants to contradict this, you might listen to them over me, but she should say nothing without talking to a lawyer and having them present. It's better to spend an extra day in jail than to be pressured into saying something that can be used against her later.
posted by Candleman at 11:19 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

What I can tell you more authoritatively is that Walmart has extensive video surveillance including things like facial recognition. If they can't produce video evidence of the alleged crime, there's a good chance some kind of human error is involved.

I'm not familiar with Texas law but in other states I'm familiar with, if the store can't provide reasonable proof of theft via video, eye witness testimony, or something like an antitheft device triggering, they can get into trouble.
posted by Candleman at 11:39 PM on May 3 [18 favorites]

One more suggestion, if you have the time and headspace for this: if you have any sort of local community available to you - South Asian, religious, etc. - I'd try contacting them, both for social support and possibly for legal resources and connections.
All my best to you.
posted by trig at 11:52 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

criminal lawyer is crucial. maybe not for tonight, but soon.

my experience: the morning arraignment may be the bail hearing. i have done this before. she will see a judge who sets bail. in my county, there are no bail hearings after about 3pm. if you're arrested at night you will stay overnight. she can call you after. if you pay bail (or bond), it can take hours and hours until she is released.

i was freaked out the first time.
getting arrested happens. odds are, she's out fine by noon tomorrow. best wishes for you both.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:29 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]

Second thing to do is send Walmart a "preservation of evidence" letter demanding that the video from that day, and all records related to the scanning system from the previous few months be preservered. If there was a failure of certain items not being scanned, there might be a record of manual entries for those items, something that the average person at self checkout would not know to do. Send it to both the local store and corporate headquarters. You may want a process server to deliver it.
posted by Sophont at 3:55 AM on May 4 [22 favorites]

Hey, so this same thing happened to my brother at a Walmart in 2013. He was "caught" by loss prevention, they made a humongous show of arresting him, he was taken to jail overnight, and then the next day at his arraignment, he was "sentenced" to pay for the item he "stole" and was "banned from Walmart for life". Just wanted to give you an idea of what to expect.
posted by all about eevee at 6:53 AM on May 4 [18 favorites]

all about evee - could you clarify the above? Do you mean that it was all theatre and there were no actual legal consequences?
posted by freya_lamb at 11:44 AM on May 4

There were no legal consequences for him at all beyond the fact that he was in jail overnight.
posted by all about eevee at 12:30 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]

Assuming that one wants to go back to Walmart again, the ban is also a consequence. That's where the high level of video surveillance and facial recognition comes in. If you live in a small town where Walmart is pretty much the only store, that ban can be significant.
posted by Candleman at 1:25 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]

I really hope you found help and your wife is ok. I've been thinking about you today. Good wishes.
posted by bwonder2 at 1:33 PM on May 4 [55 favorites]

I really hope your wife is ok and that things have worked out this morning. One thing I haven't seen anyone note yet: you say that your family is South Asian, but not whether your wife is a US citizen. If she's not, you should also consult an immigration lawyer as soon as possible, preferably one with specific expertise in understanding possible immigration consequences of criminal charges. If she's not a citizen, a disposition where your wife gets found guilty of shoplifting--even if she serves no jail time and the only punishment is to pay for what she didn't pay for previously--can affect her immigration status. Before any non-citizen accepts any outcome that includes an admission of guilt, they need to talk to an immigration lawyer, because these things can blow up in unexpected ways later. I'm so sorry your family is going through this.
posted by decathecting at 8:43 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]

I hope you and your wife are ok, OP.
posted by areaperson at 5:28 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]

Please let us know how things are going. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 9:41 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]

I hope everything worked out, thoughts and prayers your way.
posted by dubious_dude at 12:59 PM on May 6

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