Addiction greatly increases your risk of being arrested. In 2013 alone, there were 1.5 million arrests due to drug possession, and more than 80% of these arrests were for possession alone – not sale or manufacture. About 60% of federal prisoners report using illegal drugs in the last month, and the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as 80% of prisoners may have a substance abuse problem. It doesn’t matter if you live in a nice neighborhood, carefully conceal your addiction, or are an otherwise upstanding citizen. If you’re an addict, you could be arrested. And for many addicts, the arrest is just the beginning of the crucible the legal system presents.
Common Legal Challenges
If you’re arrested for a relatively small crime, you may be able to bond out in just a few hours. No matter what the circumstances of your arrest, though, an arrest is no small thing. When you’re arrested, you may face a number of potential sources of trauma, including:
- Being mistreated by police.
- Being strip searched.
- Having to stay in a cell with people you don’t like or who seem dangerous.
- Losing your privacy; at many jails, the holding cell is visible to everyone who walks by, which may mean using the bathroom without any privacy.
- Losing your clothing and having to wear a jail uniform.
- Having your possessions searched and confiscated.
In addition to being arrested, you face other significant legal risks, including:
- The costs of retaining a lawyer. Defending a criminal case can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may be stuck with an overworked public defender whom you rarely see.
- Criminal fines. You may have to pay a penalty, and if you hurt anyone else, you could also be stuck paying restitution.
- Forfeiture – in many jurisdictions, the police can institute proceedings to take your property if they believe you used drug proceeds to buy it or you used the property to traffic in drugs. The burden of proof is often low, which could mean you lose your car or cash even if you’re not a drug dealer.
- Loss of federal student funding.
- Loss of eligibility for many welfare programs.
- Difficulty explaining your arrest to current or future employers.
- Having your mugshot published online.
- A permanent public record of your arrest – in most cases, arrests are public records, unless your arrest is expunged. This means that, for the rest of your life, anyone can seek out and gain access to your arrest records.
- Public humiliation, particularly if you have a trial or your case is a high-profile one.
Choosing a Lawyer
It doesn’t matter how bad you feel about your drug use or how much you want to get clean. Jail and prison are not the ideal locations to recover, and the stress of incarceration can be a significant trigger for drug use. A lawyer can help you reduce the penalties you are facing, and may even be able to help you get exonerated. Good lawyers can cost quite a bit, though, so it’s important to carefully screen an attorney before signing a contract with her. Referrals from people you trust are often the best way to locate a qualified attorney. Be sure also to ask yr lawyer the following questions:
- How many cases like mine have you handled?
- What is the best-case scenario for my case? The worst-case scenario?
- If I pursue treatment, will that help my case?
- What is your legal strategy? Is my case winnable, or will you try to negotiate a plea deal?
- Can I talk to a previous client?
- How much do you charge? Will it cost more if my case goes to trial? What if I lose and want to appeal?
- Are there any witnesses who can help my case? What evidence should I gather to increase my likelihood of winning?
Navigating the Court System
The legal system is a culture unto itself, with its own norms and rules. Learn as much as you can about the legal system if you’ve been arrested, because doing so may help your case. Keep these tips in mind:
- Never show up late. The judge may issue a warrant if you’re not there on time, and tardiness can make you look bad in front of the judge or jury.
- Always behave respectfully toward the judge.
- Never show any signs of anger or aggression.
- Dress professionally, in a business suit, conservative dress, or nice slacks, for all court appearances.
- Do everything your lawyer tells you to do.
- Keep your commitments to the court. If you agree to pay a fine and don’t pay it, you could end up going back to jail.
- Never miss appointments with your probation officer.
- Ask your lawyer if drug court is an option. Many jurisdictions offer special programs for recovering addicts.
- Maintain careful records, and never throw away court documents.
- Learn as much as you can about your legal rights. You can usually decline a police officer’s request to search your car, for example. If you think your rights have been violated, don’t become aggressive or make threats, though, as this only increases your risk of being arrested. Instead, remain calm and then call your lawyer the first chance you get.
- Never admit guilt without talking to a lawyer first, and begin asking for an attorney as soon as you are arrested.