Arrestee FAQ

Questions for folks who’ve been arrested

Other Common Questions


What’s going to happen at my first court appearance (arraignment)?

The main purpose of the first court date (arraignment) is to find out whether the District Attorney will file a case against you and what charges will be. The DA decides your official charges, not the cops who arrested you. ​The DA could decide not to charge you at all, they could give you different charges, or they could officially ‘not file’ the charges because they haven’t reviewed the police reports. For most of the cases that we’ve seen, the DA has officially ‘not filed’ charges at arraignment.

If they don’t file charges, it doesn’t mean that the case is dismissed; it means that the DA has up to one year to file the charges for misdemeanor charges (they have longer to file felony charges). See here for what to do if they don’t file.

If they do file charges, and you are being represented by a National Lawyers Guild attorney, the attorney will most likely schedule another hearing date a few weeks later. That will give you time to strategize about what to do next.

Another purpose of the first appearance is to set bail. If you were release on a citation or on your own recognizance (O.R.) this probably will not change at your first appearance. If your were released on bail, the amount will probably stay the same. However, if DA adds new charges or files more serious ones than your arrest charges, your bail amount may change.

The final purpose of the first appearance is to give you an opportunity to request an attorney.

I don’t understand my charges? How serious are they?

First, keep in mind that the charges the DA decides to bring against you may be different than what the police wrote on your citation. The types of charges we are dealing with can be broken down into four classes:

  • Traffic violations/infractions: These are the lowest level of charges. The maximum penalty for these charges is paying a fine (you can’t go to jail for this level of charge). They are also defended in traffic court, where you have fewer rights. However, our attorneys have a lot of experience in successfully defending people with these charges.
  • Low-level, non-violent misdemeanors: These charges could in theory result in jail time, yet they rarely do. They are also the least likely to be actually charged by the DA and the easiest for our attorneys to handle. Typical low-level misdemeanor charges we have seen include: PC 405 (Riot), 408 (Unlawful Assembly), 409 (Failure to Disperse), 602 (Trespassing), 602.1 (Interfering with a Business), 647(e) (Lodging), 647c (with the c not in parentheses – Obstruction), PC 369i (Blocking Trains), various Vehicle Code sections including 2800 (Disobeying an Officer) and having to do with entering the highway etc.
  • More serious misdemeanors: These charges are serious enough that you will most likely want an individual attorney (as opposed to one attorney appearing for many similar cases at the same time). They could result in up to a year of jail time (although in these situations that is extremely rare). Common charges include: PC 148 (resisting arrest or delaying an officer), 242 or 243 (battery / assault), 594 (vandalism), 415 (disturbing the peace).
  • Felony charges: These are the most serious charges, and they could result in a state prison sentence. You will definitely need your own, individual attorney to handle your case. You will know if you have been charged with a felony, as it makes getting released from custody much more difficult. If you or someone you know has been charged with a felony related to demonstrating, contact us right away!

Can you find me a lawyer?

We are doing our best to find NLG volunteer attorneys to represent folks arrested during Black Lives Matter protests in the Bay Area, at least up to your first appearance date. If you were arrested in a mass arrest situation (i.e. more than 10 people arrested together with the same low-level charges), it’s very likely we will have attorneys able to represent the entire group at your arraignment.

If you were arrested individually, or have more serious charges, we will do our best to find you an NLG attorney who can represent you individually.

In any case, if you want us to represent you, the most important thing to do is to make sure we have all your information! If you haven’t contacted us, or are unsure if we have all your details, please fill out this secure form.

I am not a US citizen and I was arrested. Will this affect my immigration/visa/etc.? What should I do?

If you are not a U.S. citizen, an arrest may also affect your immigration status. Criminal convictions, sometimes even minor ones, may complicate a petition to change your status. Convictions for crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies may make you removable or inadmissible. It is very important that you have competent legal advice on the potential immigration consequences of any proposed resolution of your case. Contact us and we’ll find someone you can talk to.

It sounds like you might not be able to find me a lawyer. What should I do?

If many people are charged individually or with more serious charges, our volunteer attorneys may not be able to cover all the cases. If that’s the case, you have three options:

  • If you are low income, you may be eligible for a Public Defender or appointed counsel – attorneys paid by the state to defend low income people on criminal charges. The income amount to qualify varies. The PDs in Alameda County and San Francisco are overworked, but good attorneys, and have access to some resources not available to our attorneys. If you want a PD, you request one during your arraignment, at which point they will probably schedule another date.
  • You can hire your own private attorney. The NLG doesn’t provide referrals, so you will have to find one on your own. One issue with some private attorneys is they may sometimes defend their clients by getting other individuals in trouble.
  • You can also defend yourself (pro per). If you want to look into this option, it is strongly recommended that you give us a call so we can have an attorney discuss the implications of this.

The District Attorney didn’t file charges at my arraignment. What should I do?

In many of the Alameda County cases, the DA has not filed charges by the date set for arraignment because they have not yet received the police report or other info from the cops. Keep in mind that the DA has up to one year to file charges. In many of the San Francisco cases so far, the DA has decided NOT to file charges, but could charge you later if you are arrested again for a similar violation.

  • In Alameda County, if they do decide to file criminal charges against you at a later point, the DA will send you a summons by mail, to the address you gave when cited out or bailed out. However, to make sure you don’t miss this notice, we recommend that you call the Alameda County DA’s number (510-268-7500) in a couple of weeks, and then once a month to find out if they have filed criminal charges against you.
  • In San Francisco, if you have been told you are definitely not being charged, rather than that the case is still under investigation, there is no need to keep calling.)

DO NOT agree to go in and talk to the DA about your case! Doing so won’t help you. You have a Fifth Amendment right not to talk to the DA, police, or their investigators.

If you find out you are being charged, call the NLG / Fists Up Legal Hotline right away to let us know: 415-285-1011, if you would like criminal representation from the NLG. (Keep in mind that we may not be able to find volunteer attorneys for everyone, and that in some cases it may be a good idea to go with the Public Defender.)

I got something in the mail from the Court or District Attorney’s Office. What should I do?

Let us know! Do not respond to any of these notices without getting legal advice. There are several different things folks may be getting in the mail:

  • A notice from the DA that prior charges are being filed – this means you will have a court date coming up
  • A notice to pay a fine or set a court date in traffic court – this means your charges have been reduced to an infraction-level charge and that it will be handled by the traffic court. You, or an attorney, will need to schedule a court date.
  • A notice referring your case to “community court”, “neighborhood court”, the “corrective intervention program”, or some other “alternative dispute resolution” – these are DA-run alternatives to the criminal court system. Because you have fewer rights in these programs, we have been advising demo arrestees not to participate.

I’m charged with x and I didn’t do it/I have witnesses and evidence for my case/I want to use the necessity defense/etc.

Until you are arraigned, we won’t know what you are being charged with, or if you will be charged at all. Most cases will probably NOT be prosecuted at all. Once we are sure you are being charged, we can start strategizing about next steps for your legal defense. If you have evidence, make sure it is well-documented and keep it in a safe place until we are sure it will be needed.

I was arrested, but I want to participate in this another action. Will Ii get higher charges if i get arrested again?

Most likely, no. However, if you are arrested multiple times in the same county, the DA may consider that when deciding whether or not to charge you. If you have other restrictions based on prior arrests (probation/parole/stay away orders/fail to appears/warrants/etc) you may be held in jail and have other consequences.

I’m going to be out of town for my court date. Is that a problem?

We can have an attorney appear for you without you being there if all of the following are true:

  • You were arrested in a mass arrest situation (i.e. more than 10 people arrested together.
  • You have low-level charges (see above for what those are).
  • You have an arraignment on one of the following dates:
    • Alameda County (Oakland/Berkeley): 12/23/14, 12/24/14, 12/26/14, 1/6/15
    • San Francisco: 12/30/14
  • You have contacted us with all your information and told us that you can’t attend your court date

I was hurt/mistreated by the police/jail. What can I do?

See this page for details on what to do.

How can I help?

  • If you are able, please help us continue the legal support ​work by donating to the ​National Lawyers Guild. The attorneys, hotline workers, and legal observers are all working for free, but it costs money to keep the NLG office open, accept collect calls from jail, print out know your rights materials, send out bright green hats to legal observers, and brew coffee for our overnight hotline shifts! Click on the “donate” button here or mail in a check payable to the NLG with “Demo Committee” in the memo line, to NLGSF, 558 Capp Street, SF, CA 94110.
  • Support people who are being charged.  People of color are particularly being singled out for harsh charges. Please come to court to support the Ferguson 3, the #BlackFriday14 and others. To find out when court support is needed and for more info, check out the Bay Area Anti-Represssion Committee. You can also donate to the Bay Area Anti Repression Committee bail fund through that link.
  • Please spread the word! We still need help getting in touch with more arrestees. We are missing contact information for many of those arrested. Please spread the word for folks to fill out this confidential form, or call the hotline 415-285-1011 with their info (we’d rather you use the form to keep the hotline free.)
  • If you want to get involved with helping us legal observe or run the hotline, keep an eye on our updates page for upcoming trainings.