Navigating an Arrest: What to Expect When Your Child is Arrested

No matter how strained your relationship is and no matter what your child has done, hearing that the person you love most has been arrested can be terrifying for any parent.  The legal system can be confusing and overwhelming to people unfamiliar with the arrest process, and knowing what to expect can help you develop a strategy for drawing boundaries, getting legal help, intervening on your child's behalf, and deciding when to walk away.

The Arrest

There are two ways your child can be arrested. The first is when the officer has probable cause, such as when he sees drugs in your child's car or witnesses an assault. If the officer doesn't directly witness evidence of a crime, though, he'll have to get a warrant. Your child will be read his Miranda rights – which include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney – and, in most cases, placed in handcuffs and put in the back of a police car.


At the police station, your child will likely be placed in a holding cell until he is processed. The police officers will gather basic information about your child, including his address and any previous criminal record. If your child is accused of a serious crime, the officers might also interrogate him. Your child has a right to remain silent and to demand an attorney at this point. Your child also has a right to make one phone call, but the process of making a phone call can be delayed several hours by the booking and intake process.


Bond and Arraignment

An arraignment is your child's first formal appearance in front of a judge, and the constitution protects the right to a speedy arraignment. In most cases, the arraignment will occur within a day or two of the arrest. In some cases, your child's attorney might advise her to waive her right to an arraignment.


At the arraignment, the judge will determine if your child is eligible for bond. He'll consider previous illegal actions, the severity of the crime, and whether your child is a flight risk. Bond is almost always granted for low-level crimes such as DUI and drug possession, but violent offenders are often denied bond. There will not be an evidentiary hearing at the arraignment, so your child's innocence or guilt is irrelevant to whether or not she gets bond.


Bond is the equivalent of a deposit on your child. The person who pays bond agrees to forfeit the full amount if your child flees, so bonding your child out can be a big risk if your child is unreliable. In most cases, you'll need to hire a bail bondsman, who will charge you a percentage of the bond – usually 10 percent. If your child flees, the bondsman will pursue your child, and you'll be stuck paying the full amount of the bond.


Legal Counsel

Even if your child is guilty, competent legal counsel can protect her rights by ensuring she is treated fairly in jail, gaining her access to health care, or negotiating a fair plea deal. In criminal cases, defendants have an absolute right to legal counsel, and if your child can't afford an attorney, she'll be appointed a public defender. You can also pay for a private attorney, though there is no guarantee that a private attorney will be better than a public defender. If you decide to select a private attorney for your child, consider the following issues:

·         Whether the attorney has specific experience with cases similar to your child's

·         Whether you feel comfortable working with the attorney

·         The attorney's professional reputation. Check her records with your state bar to ensure she has not been disciplined for unethical behavior.

·         The attorney's responsiveness and compassion. You'll be working with this person for weeks or months, so you'll need to ensure this is someone with whom you can comfortably communicate.


Plea Bargains and Trials

Criminal cases are frequently dropped for a variety of reasons, and a good attorney can increase the likelihood that the prosecutor will abandon your child's case. Legally insufficient arrests, illegal searches, and exculpatory evidence can all help your child's case be dismissed before it gets started.


But if there's strong evidence that your child is guilty and the crime is serious enough to warrant a prosecution, there are two options: plea bargaining and a trial. Ninety percent of criminal cases never make it to trial, ending in a plea bargain instead. With a plea bargain, you can negotiate a specific punishment, which might include drug treatment, probation, a fine, time in jail, restitution to the victim, or life skills classes. Your child's sentence will typically be less with a plea bargain, but a plea bargain requires that your child plead guilty. If your child is innocent, it may be worth the risk of a trial.


A trial usually only takes a few hours unless the case is particularly complex. Both sides will present evidence, and the burden is on the prosecution to prove your child's guilt. Consequently, it's possible that your child's attorney could present no evidence and your child could still be found not guilty. While a trial offers the possibility of exoneration, it's typically more expensive to pay an attorney for a trial, and the stress can be exhausting to your family. You'll usually have at least a few weeks to contemplate whether you want to pursue a trial or accept a plea bargain. However, prosecutors occasionally pressure defendants into taking immediate plea bargains, so you'll need to begin contemplating your options as soon as your child is arrested.


The aftermath of an arrest can be overwhelming, and you're under no obligation to keep a guilty child out of jail. However, an arrest can also be a turning point that helps a troubled child hit rock bottom, and you may be able to use your assistance as leverage to encourage your child to seek treatment. No matter what you choose, ensure you establish clear boundaries, and make sure your child knows your expectations if he wants to continue receiving help.



Devers, L., Ph.D. (2011, January 24). Plea and charge bargaining [PDF]. Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Justice.


Pollock, M. S. (2013, January 30). What happens after arrest: The arraignment. Marvin and Marvin PLLC. Retrieved from http://www.marvinandmarvin.com/what-happens-after-arrest-the-arraignment/