He will provide shelter and food! How easy is that for you to accept that He provides what we need in His timing not our timing? Or better yet, how easy is it to trust Him when the timing is right?
Over the course of years, months and days I’ve planned to live affordably but, at what costs?
There is nothing worse then moving too much in our life time. I’ve never have had a place to reisde that I regretted leaving. My parents moved all the time, so I never have felt or understood what structure meant when it came to comfort or stability. I made the same mistake when it came to my children.
My children have moved with me numerous times for many reasons. I’ve relied on others, their promises, their failures and my failures. I was married to their dad who was verbally abusive for around 10 years. We tried doing a live in seperation for the kids who were 3 and around 18 months at the time. But, that didn’t work so, I looked for a place to move to where I could have my children with me. I tried finding something affordable, that was nearly impossible. Over the course of 20 years I’ve probablly moved about 15 times.
I’ve owned homes over the course of time and sold those over time to provide what I needed at the time. I’ve lived in varies apartments in vairious areas. I’d move because, there were rent increases and others had move incentives. I’d have storage for periods of time to giving up and donating everything. Every time, I’d move I would purge things because, I wasn’t using them like I thought I would. I guess you could call that a cleanse, ha ha.
I’ve shared in another post “living off the grid” pro’s and con’s of living on land and where we started with that. Since, I’ve contemlated living in our new travel trailer with my son and his dog. Tight quarters small living space for three can bring its challenges including parent, child and an animal that we love very much.
When my daughter would come to visit and due to different varients of weather. I’d break down the table to make it into the bed for her to sleep on. She’s only been able to visit two times.
Since, winter is coming and shelter will be neccessary. I branched out to look at other options for me to have residence. A place to call my own started with the term used all over the internet and in varies communities. Tiny homes are a bit costly for me. So, I went another route.
I saw that Costco had a shed on special and it looked much like a tiny home versus a shed. So, I ordered it. Then, I received an email stating it would be delay for around 5 more weeks versus the original timeframe of 3-5 weeks. Then, I was giving a delivery date. I planned on hiring my son’s uncle to assemble this building. I sent him a list of things that were needed for the completion of the building. His availability was slim and he was on standby. I called the company the day before the delivery and they said it is set to be delivered tommorrow. I waited all day for the phone call. Nothing!
I was fuming mad to say the least. So, I canceled immeditaly (the day after the delivery day that was scheduled). Why me? Why?
About a month went by when I realized I need to get moving on something. So, I considered a manufactured home. I found one on clearance, so, I put my name in as an interested party. The lady said, it would be ready to go, fixed repaired, set-up and delivery was included in the price. Being this was the weekened viewing, I called the office on Monday, who told me I was rpovided the wrong information and that this would add around 20k-40k more onto the price. So, I opted out.
I decided to drop back by a place I considered over and over again. I had driven by this company on the side of the road many times. Contemplating the costs and having compareed with other companies. I decided this company makes the most sense.because of what they offer; warranty, quality, delivery, etc. I drove into the parking lot, went into the office and asked to speak with the person who can show me the buildings. The first one was the ideal one I wanted. But, I decided to walk around and look at the the others. I decided the first one is the one I want. We went inside wrote up the paperwork. I wrote a check, and it was delivered.
Although, I still was a bit unsure about the delivery time frame. I got things situatured, raked the spot, verified over and over again this was the spot. I origingally stayed in a tent at this exact location and I knew the sun and the shade it provided.
The man attempted to delivery it on a Friday but, he ran into problems with delivery of another one. So, he said he will shoot for Saturday. On Saturday, I was antsy and getting ready for another dissapointment. So, I texted him and asked that he let me know when he leaves his presnet job so, I can estimate him arrival. Well, it was nearing 1pm and factoring in I hadn’t heard from him. I started to give up, but, kept myself busy by triming bushes, trees, etc.
Next thing I heard was my phone, receiving a text message with an ETA. He would be there soon. Praise God!
Anxious and Excited
I brought a chair up to the gate area and sat and waited. The neighbors came over and were super excited for me and knew I was on pins and needles. I heard the truck enter our main road. I was suprised to see two trucks. I guess the width requires another vehicle ahead to make sure it can make it to your location.
Excited and Nervous
As you can see by the pictures there were some tight areas were the branches would rub against the dormor windows. I thought for sure the roof or the windows would be damaged.
A few times I had to look away because, of the turning radius that was needed and the tipping of the unit off of the trailer.
Around two nights prior I had ordered insulation, materials and supplies from Home Depot. I was given the option of delivery dates and I requested the same day delivery. I waited for notification they were on their way. To no avail, no delivery. I phoned the store and canceled because, they said they don’t deliver the same day. I said, then why does your website give you the choice? I decided to go in person and get what I needed instead.
The next day, I got to work and insulated the walls in no time at all.
The following day, I started moving things into my tiny home.
How to complain about a business
If a business has made a mistake with your order or botched a service it provides, it can pay to complain. However, there’s a nuance to the complaining. You don’t want to just rant and rave. That typically doesn’t get you far. Here’s how to get the best results when complaining to a company.
The quicker you file your complaint, the better. The faster you complain, the more likely you are to have access to the necessary information. If you wait, you might misplace a receipt or even lose a piece of product that needs to be returned.
Make sure you have emails, receipts and more before making your complaint. Validity and accuracy go a long way when it comes to getting results.
As the old saying goes, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. So before complaining, take a deep breath. No matter how mad you are, it’s a better idea to make a calm, polite complaint. A business is more likely to take you seriously if you’re kind. And remember: The customer service agent is just that. They didn’t have anything to do with what happened, so be nice.
It can be beneficial to complain on social media, but only if you use the right ones. As US News reports, Facebook and Instagram aren’t a great place to explain your gripe. That’s because the algorithm those sites use can prevent people who aren’t your “friends” from seeing the post. Twitter, on the other hand, is where it’s at. On Twitter, users from everywhere can see your posts. Not only that, many businesses have specific customer service accounts on Twitter to handle complaints. A quick search using the name of the company and word “service” can usually help unearth them.
After the day I have had, I’m going to get down to the nitty gritty especially when it comes to trying to live off the grid.
How do you find comfort when it comes to living off the grid? I can tell you we’ve had our share of adversity.
Baking To Death
Over the last few months my son, his dog and myself have resided on our property with no home structure in place.
What do you call home? I can say that our home at one time was living in our own automobiles. A bit later our homes became a tent for each one of us, the tent allowed for more space and a place to retreat too. When we first moved to the property warmth was needed and then air conditioning was a dire need of ours. Otherwise, you will bake yourself to death in California.
Shortly, after living in the tents the heat got so bad we had to venture out to purchase a travel trailer. During this time the dealerships that were reselling were turning over inventory so fast they didn’t even have time to get the most recent trailer onto their website. When you would call they would say if its still here or available when you get here. After due diligence we finally found a newer model that provided everything we needed.
After picking up the trailer, the placement of the travel trailer was important when it came to having an accessible location. It needed to be parked under trees for shade and near the shop on the property for electricity. This particular area had at least 500-1000 foot pine trees and a couple of massive oak trees that surrounded the travel trailer. Beautiful views from every direction accept for the side that had the view of the shop.
Side Note: Over the years, I’ve heard a still small voice say sell everything get something to live in that has wheels. I had worked for an organization that was involved with disasters and I saw and understand what displacement is like. In California you need to be able to flee from your hazardous situation and have something to retreat too. Hotels were normally the first thing booked up. California is an expensive state to live in and it is a state that is burning up and flooding all the time.
During the summer months PG&E turned off our power at a minimum of 1 x weekly for no apparent reason other than safety measures. Sometimes, when we’d loose power it would be up to 24 hours and at least 1 time or more in any given week.
We decided it was time to purchase a generator. My son went shopping on line and found a generator at Home Depot. To drive to this particular Home Depot was around 20-30 minutes each way. It took at least two weeks for the generator to arrive at the store for him to pick-up.
When my son got the generator home and connected it to our travel trailer is was in a wide open spot nothing around it or near it. After the air conditioning was running around 30 minutes the generator turned off. He went to check to see why and found that it was because of carbon monoxide. So, he restarted the generator again and again and to no avail it continued to shut off.
Needless to say, we returned it and got an entirely different brand and one with even more power. When the new unit arrived at the store he picked it up and brought it home and took it out of the box. It had looked like something dropped on top of the generator to crush it into the bottom of the generator. So, here we go with some more adversity.
My son had to go back into town to return this one and to re-order another generator from this same Home Depot. Although, this generator arrived in a weeks time. So, he had to drive back to town to pick it up and took it home. This time my son asked that the employees open the box to verify that it is indeed not damaged.
The returns checker said they gave my son a $50.00 credit on the third generator. When in reality it was only $5.00. Double check your receipt before leaving that checker!!!
Praise God this generator has ran flawlessly since.
Don’t get me started when it comes to the amps you need to run a piece of equipment. Especially when it comes to the extension cords and all the adapters for the generator.
Constantly going back and forth to the Home Depot to find help or the help you get is nothing more then you not knowing what you need.
Showing an employee a photo or trying to show them the generator you purchased and the photo of the plug on the trailer to asking a non trained employee is like trouble shooting. I know they are trying to help.
It really sucks having to run back and forth buying and returning, so much time and money being spent, what a waste!
Lesson learned was that most companies are not even training or hiring people with experience. Companies are so desperate for people right now they will hire anyone. COVID has taken a toll on society!
When you decide to get a generator make sure you have all the necessary adapters and the correct footage for the extension cords. All of this should be shipped with the generator all at once. Also, if you do not have the gas can or the propane tank for your generator make sure you have that when you decide to get a generator. Don’t forget the oil, parts, etc. that you will need to do the frequent oil changes. (every 100-200 hours) depending if you are using gas or diesel.
I really hope that my writing about this will help get this frustrating matter off my chest. Because, its really hard for me to deal with all this adversity.
The expense of the fuel right now is taxing on all of us. The propane prices are going up and up each week.
Originally, I wanted and requested that the travel trailer be placed at the top of the property near the electric and the well. Also, its were everyone that lives down from us must park during the winter when the snow comes. But, my son insisted that it should go to the bottom of the property near the shop.
So, under the trees we parked and I kept saying we need to move the travel trailer before winter comes. I don’t want the tree branches to come down on the trailer to break something on top. Side note: The resident squirrel loved to bombard us with acorn bombs. You would jump out of your skin when they’d land on the top of the travel trailer. Holley, my sons dog would jump on top of you to protect you while she shook uncontrollably. But my son refused to want to move the trailer.
If I had the vehicle to move the trailer I would have. But, my son’s main vehicle was with him at work. Its such a process to break down and set-up a travel trailer. Attempting to level it, factoring in the placement of everything; the slide out, the 300 gallon external septic tank that had to be moved when it was empty was a challenge because, you have to work around the company coming out to pump it. The distance the electric will be from the travel trailer, to needing another long electric extension cord. Then, to the water hook-up, hoses, etc. Oh, and all the gravel we had delivered to offset all the dirt going in the travel trailer.
Over the last week, a big branch came down and broke an item on the top of the trailer. So, that too was my breaking point. Telling my son that the travel trailer needs to get moved now! My son said he would pay for the part and understood that we do need to move it. We moved it to a huge open area finally. Not at the top of the hill like I originally wanted so, you’ll probably hear about it in the coming months.
Prior to moving the trailer to the new location it took hours. We had to move other vehicles out of the way and clear all sort of things from the area to prevent any other damage. Like nails, srews, bolts, metal fragments, pins that hold the industrial type of weed block on the ground. There used to be a bunch of greenhouses on the property.
After moving the travel trailer, using our existing extension cords they wouldn’t reach, it’s unsafe to use multiple cords together. Temporarily we had to set the generator up to have electricity. The noise is such a nuisance, generators can be so flip-pin loud! Running the generator from around 7 am till 5:30 pm we used around 8 gallons of fuel that is costing around $5.50 a gallon. My electric bill for the month last month was only $75.00. I cannot justify the $1000.00 dollar generator, fuel, extension cords, etc. expenses for 1 day being this much money. This generator will be used for back-up only. And, maybe for running the washer, dryer, the shop lights, power tools, welder, etc.
Our neighbors have been living off the grid for over 30 years and have spent lots of money and time to live in such a way. They’re now in their mid and late 60’s and I’m in my 50’s and I do not want to have that much money going out the door right now.
On Sunday, I ordered the extension cord via Amazon, you can go one place to find what you need and with Prime you can get it in 1-2 days. Praise God for that! The extension cord arrived as stated and it is plugged in now. The trailer is now back on electric, everything is operating without noise, we have heat for the fireplace to warm us and now we have the propane regulator needing to be fixed then we will have the propane up and going.
Now, I have to run outside now to move the generator to keep it accessible to the shop before the rain comes. I thank God for not having to be employed at the moment because, I honestly cannot handle more stress in my life right now.
Owning property definitely has its advantageous and its disadvantageous. I can say the view, the waterfall, the creek, the wild life and the wild blackberries has rectified my sanity at this time.
We’ve only been living here since May 2021 and so much adversity has transpired. The adversities included the purchasing of the property. The timeliness of closing escrow on the home. To being homeless living in our cars, then to living in tents if it wasn’t too cold out.
Shortly after selling the house I was able to purchase a 2019 28 ft travel trailer. My son who is 24 years old a pit bull mix and myself all live in this travel trailer.
Holley, whom I call sweet pea because, she is loved beyond all means. She lives in doors and loves being outdoors.
Learned something new today and that is that my life is exposed by my challenges. These challenges that are inside me.
The pressure going on in my life reveals what I treasure and what I trust the most.
That is why my response should be that I must respond to my need for God.
Getting To The Core
The inner structure around which we build our lives is called our core value system. Our core values motivate our decision making as well as the actions we will take. Let us focus on restored relationships between the unsaved and God, let us focus on God’s ability to transform our identity (sin) back to Him through Salvation (the only good).
The ability to experience Him is outcome and our purpose is to represent Him with unconditional love toward others. Our Father’s heart is about relationship with one and another and us. What we truly need is from Him, not others. The world is full of brokenness, broken relationships and broken families.
Admit you are a sinner and that this sin is holding you back from the relationship with God. We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died and rose again.
Love Them And Honor Them
First, we must love others because God first loved us. God’s love compels us to take action in finding the light that we all hold. The light is your unique attribute that causes others to be attracted to you. Honor one another regardless if we agree with them or not is key. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be savedJohn 3:16-17
We Can Learn To Love The World
We are all called to evangelize in one form or another. What I mean by that is how do you want to influence another? Is it by practicing law, being a caretaker, doctor, business person, a teacher, find your niche and make a difference in another person’s life. We must have experienced something, that we want others to learn from. We can always improve something for the better. Our experiences in life happen for a reason. How can you influence another into action?
- Is your story full of action filled events or action filled words?
- What is motivating you to take action?
- Who are you willing to befriend?
- What has God done in your life?
- What is He continually doing in your life?
Forgiveness and Unforgiveness
Unforgiveness hinders us, has someone hurt you and you refuse to forgive them still? If so, they are winning because, you have imprisoned yourself, dwelling, fuming, about the matter continually.
Release yourself from this incarceration (prison) by forgiving what they have done. Start right now by saying; Jesus, I forgive _____ for everything they’ve done to me and everything they haven’t done for me. I release them right now in Jesus name. Lord, is there anyone else I haven’t forgiven? If so, Jesus, thank You for forgiving me and empowering me to forgive other people. I release them all to you and I break the power and chains of unforgiveness. Come and fill me with your peach and Your presence during this difficult time.
If you confess with your mouth Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved for with the heart One Believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvationRomans 10:9-10
The holy spirit brings conviction of sin. We must repent our sin to Him and ask for forgiveness. The answer to sin is a restored relationship with God from the sin that took place.
but when the helper comes whom I shall send to you from the Father the spirit of Truth Hooper seeds from the father he will testify of me and will you also bear witness because you have been with me from the beginningJohn 15:26-27
but as many as received him to them he gave the right to become children of God to those who believe in his nameJohn 1:12
most assuredly I say to you the hour is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will liveJohn 5:25
and when he has come he will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and a judgmentJohn 16:8
Righteous means right relationship with God. Our encounters with God is ongoing and full of discoveries. These encounters forms our identity.
Jesus, thank You for revealing Yourself to me. thank you for dying on the cross for all my sins Because You Loved Me. I believe that you rose again from the dead and are alive. Today I give you all of my past sin. Please forgive me and come into my heart. I receive you as my savior, my healer, and my deliverer. I renounce any other spirit that I have invited into my life because of hurt and pain. I command them to leave me right now in Jesus name. Holy Spirit, Come and fill me, transform me, and Empower me to be like Jesus. I welcome you, Holy Spirit, to transfer my life. Empower me to be a siwtness to tell others about the love of Jesus that I have experienced. I pray that each us will be baptized in the Holy Spriti. Its now time to thank Jesus for saving me and restoring my relationship with God.
The Holy Spirit
The holy spirit deposits seeds of truth into our hearts and shines a light of truth on our sin and empowers me to confess the sins for which I need forgiveness. He will remind you of past sin and will show how distant you are from God. The holy spirit brings past sins to remembrance. the holy spirit opens your heart reveals Jesus Christ to you if you are unsaved and reveals God’s love and acceptance God is able to transform us.
Love produces confidence, identity, belonging, empowers, replaces anger with love, removes depression, anxiety and fear.
Our lens, see’s things, like how we live. Let others find the gem (light) within you.
Get alone with the Lord Jesus (Christ), meditate on God’s Word/Gospel (Bible). Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal his truths from the scriptures in the bible. What things in the Bible jump out to you?
Rest in God’s presence. Ask Him your questions, wait for Him to give you your answer. He will in His timing not your timing. Write down what he is saying to you conqueror, disciple.
What question are on your heart right now? Ask Him, he responds to me worthy. God is always present, ask, He will respond.
God sent His Son Jesus to restore us in relationship with Him through Jesus. Ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit dig deeper and read Acts 2 in the Bible.
Now, ask the Holy Spirit is there anything You would like to reveal to me today? He said, I made you for the roadblocks, bumps and curves in the road (life). When He shows you a roadblock (hurdle) renounce it and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to be an overcomer.
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s love for others around you. Empower me to be a witness to others.
Outcomes From Trials
I truly hope the outcomes from the trials I had in my life will give you hope and the strength to know you can sustain your trials. We all have a purpose to fulfill while we are on this earth in this body we call a human being. I know during hard times you have thought often… but, I didn’t ask to be born.
We must move past that, being we cannot change that. We must realize it’s time to accept what we cannot change, and ask God so why am I here, why am I going through this or that? It’s because you were chosen by God.
His plan of your birth took place prior to you being conceived. You might as well consider yourself the chosen one and that you have a purpose to fulfill. So, let’s live it out the best way we can. We need to stop all the bad things that have manifested in our families.
We need to take our eyes off ourselves and think about the less fortunate. We need to set the example for others and be an example for others to follow. During our difficult times that will happen during our lifetime, we must know that we are here to fulfill a mission, we need to figure out our purpose and that means we must have faith and know that God has our best interest at heart. God knows where our destination will be. But, we need to trust Him in all and what we do. We need to pray during our daily trials that will transpire. Because, the devil is among-st us.
How do you keep the devil away? Pickup your bible! Start reading and praying. The bible is our answer to everything. Live by it and in it. In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God Deut. 1:32
Your constitutional protection against an illegal search or seizure is actually a protection of your right to privacy against unauthorized intrusion by the government.
Thus, search and seizure questions must be framed in the context of personal privacy rights that are particular to each case.
In order to investigate criminal activity, law enforcement officers and government agents often “search and seize” people, their homes and belongings.
However, such investigations must adhere to strict constitutional constraints, or the searches and seizures will be found by the courts to be unreasonable and illegal.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures where there is an “expectation of privacy.”
It also provides the requirements for searches and seizures, including the issuance of warrants based on probable cause.
Since your right to privacy is not absolute and only extends to certain areas (home, car or office, for example). A search or seizure is not always unreasonable in itself. For instance, a search and/or seizure is reasonable where there is probable cause to suspect criminal activity.
In these cases, warrants are usually obtained from a judge and a search proceeds without violating constitutional rights. Searches and seizures without warrants are also reasonable where special, or “exigent” circumstances exist.
A police officer may legally search premises and persons where the officer’s safety is at risk, the suspect might flee, other criminal acts may be committed, or in other urgent scenarios.
You can always consent to a search or decide to continue talking with the police in an effort to cooperate. In that case, you have waived your right to privacy and the protections of the Fourth Amendment. (This is not to say that you have waived any right to a Miranda warning, as discussed below).
When you consent to a search, any evidence that comes to light because of your consent is considered by the courts to have been legally obtained. However, your consent must be given freely and voluntarily. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that “consent that is the product of official intimidation or harassment is not consent at all.”
The USA PATRIOT Act (officially the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) was enacted as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. While the act is aimed at foreign terrorists, it affects all citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. The USA PATRIOT Act is a complex piece of legislation that the courts are currently scrutinizing as constitutional challenges to it arise.
Although the Act may have no effect in typical searches and seizures, it cannot be overlooked, because it can be broadly applied. For instance, one provision of the USA PATRIOT Act expands law enforcement’s ability to execute searches and seizures, requiring that warrants be based only on the “significant purpose” of gathering foreign intelligence, rather than being based on probable cause. Additionally, warrants may be executed secretly on premises without notifying the owner until the search is completed. Thus, “sneak and peak” search warrants conducted under the USA PATRIOT Act do not allow an opportunity for quashing the warrant prior to its execution.
A search is an invasion of privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in legitimate places-areas that society agrees are private. In other words, an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a place that a reasonable third-party would conclude is legitimately private. Additionally, an expectation of privacy requires that the individual believe he has a right to privacy in the searched premises.
I am living with my sister in her home. I pay her rent and have my own bedroom. Can she consent to my room being searched by the police?
No. You can reasonably expect privacy in your bedroom where you are a paying boarder and your bedroom is your residence.
I am staying with my parents for a couple of weeks. Can they allow the police to search the bedroom I am staying in?
No. Overnight guests have a legitimate expectation of privacy while staying in another’s house. The fact that you are a temporary guest does not dilute your protection against unreasonable searches.
SIDEBAR: Guests who do not plan to stay overnight in another person’s home are simply on the premises at the owner’s consent. Thus, there is no expectation of privacy if you are visiting a friend and are searched because the friend allowed police officers to enter her home. However, if you have been given a key to your friend’s home or apartment, then you may have an “expectation of privacy” in the premises you are visiting. The police would be required to obtain your consent or a warrant in order to search you in the above example.
While camping in a state park, rangers searched my tent for no reason. Do I have a right to privacy in this situation?
Yes, and the rangers violated that right, resulting in an unreasonable and illegal search. Although you were in a public state park out in the open, your tent is considered a “nonpublic” area in which you have a legitimate expectation of privacy.
SIDEBAR: If there were “exigent circumstances,” such as reports of screams from the tent, the search would be reasonable.
Do I have a right to privacy in a hotel room?
Only if you intend to, or have stayed overnight. Hotel guests who check in for the sole purpose of conducting a business transaction, in a matter of hours, are not protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Am I required to submit to blood tests if I have been pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated?
The subject of blood, breath, urine aBeing a Vesselnd coordination tests in the context of Fourth
Amendment rights is large and complex. Furthermore, each state has different laws concerning alcohol and drug testing, making answers to even typical questions vary, depending on the state and the facts of the stop or arrest.
Most states have “implied consent” laws covering drivers that have been arrested or taken into custody. By “implied consent” it is meant that by driving in the state, you have consented to blood, breath or urine tests to determine if you have been drinking. In these states, you can be asked to undergo blood tests if a police officer has a reasonable belief that you were driving while intoxicated.
With that in mind, some general points to consider are:
- Telling you that you can be arrested and taken to jail is usually not coercion;
- An officer does not have a duty to tell you that you can refuse the test;
- The testing must usually occur incident to an arrest, i.e., directly before or after;
- Refusal to submit to testing can mean a night in jail and suspension of your license;
- The fact that you refused can be evidence at trial;
- You could be forced to submit to a test over your objections in some states; and
- Video-tapes made at the scene can be used at a trial.
A seizure can mean an individual’s freedom has been deprived, such as in an arrest situation, or that his belongings are no longer under his control. Persons are “seized” when the conduct of law enforcement officials results in the person believing he cannot leave the area or terminate the encounter. Usually, the conduct is manifested in physical restraint or force of some kind, but intimidation can also result in a seizure.
Where property or belongings are at issue, as in searches, an “expectation of privacy” must exist for the item that is seized. If an item is abandoned, for example, it can be legally seized, since it no longer has an owner who expects privacy.
Can I be lawfully detained or seized by law enforcement without an actual arrest being made?
Yes. You can be detained for a reasonable length of time if a police officer believes criminal activity has occurred, or may occur, with your involvement. An investigative detention or “Terry stop,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is considered to be justified when an officer has a mere “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. An arrest requires the higher standard of “probable cause,” i.e., the belief that, in all likelihood, you committed a crime.
If I am physically seized or detained by police officers, have I been arrested?
No. A seizure does not always result in an arrest. Officers are entitled to stop you if they reasonably suspect you are involved in criminal activity.
SIDEBAR: Additionally, if during a stop the officers have a reasonable suspicion that you are armed, they have the right to pat you down for weapons. This is a “stop and frisk,” and the courts have held that these limited weapons searches are not unreasonable under the Constitution.
Are vehicle stops at highway or road checkpoints considered to be seizures?
Yes. However, checkpoints are considered to be “reasonable” seizures that do not violate the Constitution if they are conducted according to established procedures and for a specific purpose. For example, a sobriety checkpoint screening all cars specifically for drunk drivers has been held constitutionally permissible.
TIP: You have the legal right to avoid a checkpoint if you can do so without violating a traffic law. If a U-turn is legal, you can make one; otherwise, you may be ticketed for a moving violation.
Are lengthy waits in line at customs checkpoints seizures?
No. The government is not unreasonably detaining a person when at entry points into the United States must wait to go through a routine customs process. Courts have found that a citizen’s right against government intrusion in these situations is outweighed by the government’s interest in protecting our borders.
Routine interrogation at borders and other entry points into the country does not violate Fourth Amendment protections. In fact, courts have held that it does not apply at all because border searches are, by their very nature, reasonable. Furthermore, it is a long-standing rule of law that expectations of privacy are minimal when you present yourself for entry into the United States.
TIP: Because the government’s interest in examining persons and property crossing the border is reasonable, your car, luggage, bags and your person can be searched. You and everyone with whom you are traveling may be questioned, including children. Answer truthfully and courteously. Have your bags, luggage and other items accessible to officials should they wish to search. Generally, your initial cooperation with border officials will quickly end any interrogation.
Are the police violating my right to privacy if they stop me and attempt to ask me questions?
No. As long you feel that you are free to terminate your encounter with the police, you have not been illegally “seized.” Law enforcement officers are free to approach you in a public place, without a basis for suspecting you of criminal activity, and ask you questions or talk to you.
How long can I be held in custody without an arrest?
Only as long as is reasonable for the officer to investigate her suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity. The investigation must proceed with due diligence and take no longer than necessary.
If you are stopped and the officer wants to frisk you for weapons, your detention should be short. For example, if you have been accused of shoplifting, you could be detained for the length of time it takes to search your bags, determine if you purchased the items and talk to the store clerks. Once the officer becomes aware that his suspicion of criminal activity has been extinguished, you must be released.
While riding the subway, the transit authority began questioning me and asked to search my bags. I consented because I felt intimidated, and drugs were found. Was this search illegal?
No. Law enforcement, which would include transit officers, can always ask to search your bags and, unless you have been coerced into giving your consent, you were not “seized” and the subsequent search is legal.
SIDEBAR: The courts have held that confining public spaces, which you cannot leave, such as a moving subway or bus, are no different from a city street in considering whether your consent was freely given. You may feel more intimidated in such a situation but, as the officer is not controlling the movement of the subway or bus, she has not “seized” you.
My business records have been seized. How do I get them back?
You file a petition asking the court to return your property, or ask for copies if the records are evidence in a case. If the court no longer needs the records, you should get them back once you show you are the rightful owner.
The police seized my vehicle and it is now up for auction. Do they have to give it back to me?
Not necessarily. Asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement, in some cases, to auction off certain property (such as a vehicle, computer and even house) that was part of a criminal enterprise. You can go to court and petition for the return of your vehicle, but you must be able to show good cause.
SIDEBAR: “Contraband” is never returned because it cannot be legally possessed in the first place. Contraband includes drugs, counterfeit money, certain obscene materials, and a variety of other items deemed illicit.
Warrants are issued from court authorized law enforcement agents, such as police officers, to arrest individuals and to conduct searches. Warrants are required because the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that a citizen cannot be illegally searched and seized. By requiring a warrant, courts are protecting those Fourth Amendment rights. The courts apply a warrant requirement in certain situations because each citizen has “an expectation of privacy.” It is important to understand that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.
Courts also commonly issue search warrants, which direct police officers to conduct a search of certain premises for specific things. Like arrest warrants, search warrants are issued by judges based on information received from law enforcement officials and probable cause is required.
The requirements for search warrants are stringent. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that a citizen’s constitutional privilege against illegal searches is “a firm line” at the entrance to your home. However, because the Constitution protects people, not places or things, search warrants are not required where the person has no expectation of privacy.
Abandoned buildings and vehicles can also be searched without a warrant because the owner is no longer using them and has no expectation of privacy. For example, the renter who moves out of his apartment in the middle of the month, although the month is paid up, no longer has a legitimate expectation of privacy. The apartment is considered to be abandoned and it can be searched without a warrant. Additionally, the driver being pursued by police who throws her purse out the window cannot later complain the police went through the purse without a warrant. She threw it away and, therefore, could not expect its contents to remain private.
What is an “informant”?
An informant is a person working with the police to provide information concerning criminal activities. The informant is not a law enforcement agent. The informant provides the “information” that supports the probable cause element for obtaining a warrant.
I have gone to the police and reported some suspicious activity in my neighborhood. Why is the information I provided not good enough for them to obtain a search warrant?
Although you are acting as an “informant,” the police may view your tip as a rumor since you are a first-time informant. Without more information, the officers do not have probable cause to obtain a warrant. If you have photographs or video of a criminal activity, turn it over to the police, as this may provide them with probable cause to obtain a warrant. Be aware that this means you will likely be called as a witness in any criminal trial that may occur as a result of your tip.
I am currently on probation. Can I refuse to let my probation officer into my house without a warrant?
No. Your probation officer does not need a warrant to enter your home to search for probation violations, such as drug possession.
Typically, one of the conditions of probation requires you to let a parole or probation officer search your person, residence, belongings and vehicle for drugs if the officer requests. If you are unwilling to accept the condition, you can choose to serve the suspended jail time.
CAUTION: If you refuse a probation officer’s request to search, you have violated the conditions of your probation. Probation can be revoked, and you will finish serving your sentence in jail.
Can the police search my home without a warrant?
Rarely. The U.S. Constitution requires a search warrant for residences unless a valid exception to the warrant requirement exists, such as “exigent circumstances.” For example, a person running from the police can be followed into his home. If the police believe a person in the home is in immediate danger, especially children, the police are allowed to enter and search your home without a search warrant.
The police searched my hotel room without a warrant. Is this illegal?
Usually. A person checking in at a hotel for the night has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a search warrant is required, except in exigent circumstances. A hotel becomes the traveler’s “transitory home” and Fourth Amendment protections apply.
TIP: Once you have checked out of the hotel, your “transitory home” is abandoned and your room may be searched without a warrant.
The police have accused me of selling stolen goods out of my bookstore and have searched the entire store without a warrant. Why is this legal?
Search warrants are not required for purely commercial business premises or property. You do not have an expectation of privacy if, at the time of the search, you opened up the property to the general public.
SIDEBAR: Doing business out of a home makes that home a commercial business. Thus, if someone is selling drugs out of their home and invites a police officer (acting as a decoy) into the house to transact business, the officer can conduct a search without a warrant.
The police, without a warrant, searched my garage, where my brother sometimes repairs cars for people. Is this legal?
Yes. If your brother is operating a public business out of a building on your property, you cannot now say that you had an “expectation of privacy” in those premises. Any items the police find while searching the garage were legally obtained.
Although garages and other outbuildings on your property generally do enjoy an expectation of privacy and cannot be searched without a warrant, you can change the nature of the buildings by opening them to the public. For example, by setting up a flower and plant business in your greenhouse where you sell to the public, you can no longer claim an expectation of privacy in the greenhouse.
SIDEBAR: Courts do not look at the type of building that was searched but, rather, its nature. “Type” refers to what the building is labeled or called, i.e., garage, barn, stable or greenhouse; “nature” refers to whether its actual use is public or private.
I have a private office at my place of employment. Can it be searched without a warrant?
Probably not. Again, where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, searches may not be conducted without a warrant.
Courts look at warrantless workplace searches on a case-by-case basis. In order to determine whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in an office located on premises accessed by the public, courts look at whether:
- the occupant has the right to exclude others from the space;
- precautions were taken to maintain privacy, such as doors and locks; and
- the occupant has a possessory interest in the space, such as the storage of personal items, documents or records.
Some examples of workspaces that can be searched without a warrant include offices or workspaces open to public view including those:
- located in an open space with the work area hidden by a partition or divider;
- located in cubicles where the desktop is blocked from public view;
- that are shared with another employee; and
- in public areas.
The employees in these offices could not reasonably expect privacy, since what they are doing in the workspace can be seen, at least partially, and heard by others. For example, the telephone calls are not private in these situations.
By posting signs on their “campuses” warning that all persons entering are subject to search, employers have automatically reduced their employees’ expectations of privacy in their offices.
Some examples of workspaces that cannot be searched without a warrant include private offices:
- with doors that can be locked and the employee has the only key; and
- doors that require a personal password to enter.
If an employer provides a safe or locking file cabinet for the employee’s use only, it cannot be searched without a warrant.
Can the police search my garbage without a warrant?
Yes. Once you have placed your garbage or trash in a location that is accessible to the public, you no longer have an expectation of privacy. Searching and seizing the trash is legal.
In some cases, state constitutions have an expanded right against illegal searches that requires a warrant for a search of trash placed on the curb in opaque bags or containers that are secured. For example, the Vermont state constitution declares that its citizens and their “houses, papers and possessions” may not be searched and seized illegally or without a warrant.
I saw my neighbor place marijuana plants in our apartment dumpster. If I remove and take them to the police, have I done anything illegal?
No. Once placed in the communal dumpster, your neighbor’s trash can be searched by anyone, including the police, and what is found there can be turned over to law enforcement officials. Furthermore, the police can validly obtain a search warrant based on your removal of the plants.
Why are the police conducting a search on my driveway without a search warrant?
A search warrant is not required in all of the areas around your home. If the area around your home, known as curtilage, is open to the public and uninvited guests, a search warrant is not necessary for the police to enter. Public curtilage includes walkways, driveways and other direct routes that lead to your residence and are impliedly open to the public.
I own several acres that are fenced and posted with “no trespassing” signs. Doesn’t this prevent the police from searching the area surrounding my house without a warrant?
The U.S. Constitution does not require a warrant for searches of open land and spaces. This is known as the “open-fields” rule. The area need not be a “field” nor “open” in order for a court to find that an “open field” exists. An “open field” is simply an area that is unoccupied, undeveloped or abandoned where no expectation of privacy exists.
Furthermore, you cannot necessarily expand the protections against a search of your property by fencing it in or posting a “no trespassing” sign. Evidence of open gates, regular entry by meter readers and others may be used to show you did not have an expectation of privacy outside your home. Walkways, driveways and other direct routes that lead to your residence are open to a search.
SIDEBAR: However, some state constitutions may expand your guarantee against an illegal search to a larger area outside your home.
My home is set back from the street with a long driveway, gates and guard dogs. Can the police still enter without a search warrant?
Probably not. The locked gate and dogs indicate that the police have to find a way other than a direct route to obtain access to your property. Since the area around your home, or curtilage, does not allow uninvited guests or members of the public to enter, it cannot be searched without a warrant.
SIDEBAR: Search or arrest warrants obtained because of information gained or observations made by entering into curtilage not impliedly public are invalid. Because an intrusion occurred in order to gain the information for the warrant, the information is considered illegally obtained by courts.
Is a search warrant required to search my child, her locker, backpack or other possessions while she is at school?
Although it depends on the circumstances of each case, you should probably assume that your child could not be legally searched without issuance of a warrant. The courts have held that a school’s need to effectively deal with threats of violence, drugs, weapons and other potential crimes on campus must be balanced against your daughter’s guarantee against illegal searches and seizures. For instance, her purse or backpack cannot be searched without a warrant if a teacher suspects she was merely smoking and may have cigarettes in it. She has an “expectation of privacy” in those items.
However, sniffer dogs brought into schools to sniff out illegal substances have been held by courts to be a reasonable form of search since smells, which are “out in the open,” are the same as items in public view.
My child is at college and was arrested by campus police when drugs were recovered in her dorm room after the resident advisor found them and reported her. Is this an illegal search?
No. Private citizens are not required to obtain search warrants, and what they discover and report to the police may be the basis for a valid arrest. Since the resident advisor is not a law enforcement official, his search was constitutional.
SIDEBAR: If the resident advisor, or any other student, made the search upon the suggestion and with the guidance of police, the search is considered a government search and a warrant must be obtained. The person searching is considered to have the status and authority of a police officer in such a case.
Can my vehicle be searched without a warrant?
Yes. Under the “automobile exception,” law enforcement officers may search your vehicle if they believe there is evidence of a crime within it. A warrant is not required for a search because a vehicle is mobile and can be moved and transported easily. Of course, the officer must have a reasonable belief based on facts that he could articulate to explain the search. For example, an officer asks the driver to get out of his truck and frisks him to make sure he does not have a weapon. The officer finds an ammunition clip in the driver’s pocket. At that point, the truck may be lawfully searched because the officer could reasonably believe a gun was in the vehicle.
SIDEBAR: If you have been pulled over, reasonable belief exists for your vehicle to be searched once you have been arrested.
The automobile exception does not apply, and, in fact, your consent is invalid, if your vehicle was stopped illegally. For example, if you were pulled over because the officer believed you ran a red light, although video records later showed that you did not, a subsequent search is unconstitutional. Your consent is only valid at an illegal stop if intervening circumstances arise between the stop and the search evidencing some criminal activity.
My teenager was pulled over and consented to a search of our family car. He does not own the car; he did not know he could refuse a search; and the officer never told him of his right to refuse. Is the search illegal?
No. The police officer had no duty to inform your child, or anyone else, of his right to refuse consent to the search. Additionally, your son had the authority to consent to the search although he was not the owner of the vehicle, since he was driving it with your permission.
TIP: Persons driving your car with permission can give consent to a search of the vehicle. If you are loaning your vehicle to another person to drive, remove any items that you consider private.
Is a motor home subject to the automobile exception for searches?
No. A warrant is required to search a motor home because there is a higher expectation of privacy in it as compared to a passenger vehicle. The motor home generally has shades, curtains, beds and baths just like a residence where you expect privacy. Because you can actually live in a motor home for an extended period of time, it is more than just a mode of transportation and the automobile exception does not apply.
Can my boat be searched without a warrant?
Probably. States generally have statutes concerning boat and water safety that allow for official inspections. Furthermore, boarding a boat is usually a minimal “invasion,” unlike the search of your home.
An arrest warrant is issued by a judge or magistrate and directs police officers to arrest a person accused of a crime. The arrest warrant is usually issued on the basis of information concerning a crime that the police give to a judge, or it may be issued after a complaint is filed by the prosecutor or district attorney. Arrest warrants may also be issued after the grand jury returns an indictment against an individual.
Arrest warrants must be based on “probable cause” and supported by a sworn statement or “affidavit.” Probable cause exists when the known facts surrounding the situation tend to implicate a person in a criminal activity. Absolute proof is not required-only a reasonable suspicion based on trustworthy facts. Police often use informants to gather information for arrest warrants.
The warrant acts as a notice to the named person of the charges brought against him. It also serves the purpose of bringing the accused before a judge, thereby beginning the criminal process against him.
Do the police have to actually witness a possible crime in order to get an arrest warrant?
No. Probable cause for an arrest warrant can be based on second-hand knowledge such as a friend reporting to the police that you told him about a crime you committed.
Can I go to the judge and ask for an arrest warrant to be issued if I have information about a crime?
No. Warrants are issued based on information a judge receives from law enforcement agencies and officers. A judge can only issue a warrant after the police have evaluated the information and determined that a crime probably has been committed.
My 4 year old child may be the victim of a crime. If we go to the police, can they obtain an arrest warrant based on what she tells them?
Yes. Even very young children with inconsistent stories may provide enough facts for an arrest warrant to be issued. Additionally, courts have also accepted a child’s nonverbal response to questions from the police as providing adequate probable cause to issue arrest warrants. A police officer will give a judge an affidavit swearing as to what your child has told him.
SIDEBAR: Child molestation and abuse cases require that police officers must often use what very young children “tell” them in order to obtain an arrest warrant. Judges are lenient in these situations and do not automatically discount the child’s testimony simply because the child is not yet a certain age. Additionally, judges do not require that an expert interview the child.
Is a warrant required in order for the police to arrest me?
No. A warrant is not required for an arrest if the police officer has probable cause to suspect you have committed a crime. Some state laws are stricter than the constitutional “probable cause” requirement and set out specific exceptions, which must be met in order for a warrantless arrest to be made.
SIDEBAR: Arrest warrants are not required, and constitutional rights are not violated, where “exigent circumstances” exist. These are situations where it is impossible or impracticable for the officer to get a warrant before the suspect flees or escapes, destroys evidence or commits further crimes.
The police detained me for a few minutes and questioned me concerning a crime that had occurred nearby. Can they do that?
Yes. Police are allowed to briefly detain you in a nonintrusive “investigatory stop” to ask about possible criminal behavior where they have a reasonable suspicion of your involvement. Since this is not considered an actual “arrest,” neither a warrant nor probable cause (as required in a warrantless arrest) was necessary in order for the officer to stop you.
What is a “citizen’s arrest”?
An arrest by a private person of another person committing a crime is sometimes referred to as a “citizen’s arrest.” Your state may or may not allow for a citizen’s arrest. If it does, the person making the arrest must bring the suspect to the attention of law enforcement officials without delay.
CAUTION: States do not generally allow for the use of deadly force when making a citizen’s arrest. In most situations, the crime must have been committed in the arresting party’s presence in order for her to proceed with a citizen’s arrest.
Can the police arrest me without actually having the warrant?
Yes. An arrest warrant is not required to be “in hand.” In most states, the arresting officers are only required to verify or confirm that one has been issued.
The police burst into my home and arrested me. Is this legal?
Not unless “exigent circumstances” existed. If there were no exigent circumstances, such as the police observing a crime through the window or hearing screams, your home was illegally searched, you were illegally “seized” and your constitutional rights were violated.
Exigent circumstances do not necessarily have to be dramatic. For example, if you are hiding someone the police believe committed a crime and will commit additional crimes, your home can be searched.
A warrant for my arrest was issued several years ago in another state. If I am pulled over, will a police officer find out about this prior warrant?
Yes. A warrant never goes away or expires and law enforcement has access to warrant information through certain databases.
If your crime was a felony, the state that issued the warrant probably entered the data in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database that is accessible to law enforcement everywhere. By entering your warrant into the NCIC system, that state is showing its willingness to pay for your extradition, or transport, back into the state, where you will face trial.
However, many criminal warrants are not entered into the NCIC because states are unable to pay the cost of extradition. States have their own databases, which are compiled from police and sheriff’s departments and county court records. In some states, all criminal warrants, both felony and misdemeanor, are part of the database and you will be apprehended if discovered.
SIDEBAR: The NCIC computer system allows law enforcement officers nationwide to check for outstanding warrants. For more information you may visit:www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/ncic.htm.
I was pulled over and the police officer said I have an outstanding arrest warrant because of a failure to pay a traffic ticket several years ago. How do I prove I paid it?
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for some payments to fail to show in the computer system, resulting in a warrant being issued for your arrest. Unless you kept your cancelled check or some other receipt, you may have to get your bank to come up with proof of payment.
TIP: To avoid this situation, pay with a check if you can, obtain the cancelled check from your bank and keep it. Get a date-stamped receipt from the clerk accepting your payment and retain it. Mark your calendar to call the clerk in 30 days to make sure that your payment has been entered into their computer system, and ask the clerk to verify to you directly that no arrest warrant has been issued.
Why has the court issued a warrant for my arrest when I have paid the fine?
Reasons courts issue warrants for many . Paying the fine may have been only part of your obligation to the court. Other requirements that must be met may include the need to:
- pay your ticket in the allotted amount of time;
- appear for your court date;
- pay more than one fine or an additional fee;
- complete payment arrangements; and
- work a certain number of community service hours.
Unlike other criminal warrants, arrest warrants from some traffic courts may be disposed of easily by pleading “guilty” or “no contest” to the warrant charge, and paying the original fine plus any additional fines. You can also dispose of the warrant by pleading “not guilty,” in which case, you will generally be required to post bail or a bond. If you are unsure of what to do, call and ask the clerk how to get your case “out of warrant status,” or check to see if the traffic court has a Web site explaining your options.
Can I find out if a warrant has been issued for my arrest?
Probably not. Only a few states make this information public, and the national database is only for law enforcement to search. You might be able to find out something from the county sheriff’s office if you know the county where the warrant was issued, but generally, information on arrest warrants is closely held until the arrest is actually made.
The police have an arrest warrant for my sister who is living at my house. Can they come into my home and arrest her?
No. A search warrant is required for the police to enter someone’s home. An arrest warrant does not allow law enforcement officials to “search” for suspects in private homes. However, once a suspect answers the door and identifies herself, she can be arrested on the premises. She has voluntarily exposed herself to arrest and seizure by the police.
Furthermore, upon leaving the home and going out in public, a suspect can be arrested. At the threshold of the front entrance, on the porch or anywhere where there is exposure to public view, touch and hearing, arrest is allowed.
When you fail to appear for a court date after an arrest, the judge issues a bench warrant authorizing law enforcement officers to bring you into custody and detain you. Since you now have fugitive status, a bench warrant permits an officer to enter premises without a search warrant in an effort to find you. Bench warrants continue in effect until you are either arrested or the issuing court withdraws it.
A grand jury is a group of people that listens to evidence of crimes presented by prosecutors, then votes whether or not a person must stand trial for the crimes. A grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence and does not hear evidence from a person who is alleged to have committed a crime. If the grand jury decides that a crime has probably occurred, an indictment, formally charging a person, is issued.
Like a trial jury, a grand jury is chosen and sworn in by a judge. Generally, grand jurors do not meet or convene every day. A grand jury might convene once a week, every month or any other time frame, depending on its workload. Once seated, the grand jury picks a foreperson to preside over and control the proceedings.
The number of people serving on a grand jury is different in each state. Generally, grand juries are composed of more people than a trial jury and serve for up to 1 year. Because of the length of time involved, grand juries are largely made up of retirees and people with flexible work and home schedules.
Federal Grand Juries
Because the U.S. Constitution requires, in the Fifth Amendment, that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a Grand Jury�,” grand juries are utilized where a federal crime has been committed. Federal grand juries consist of 16-23 members. Members of federal grand juries can serve up to 3 years. A federal grand jury is required to have both a foreperson and deputy foreperson to swear in witnesses that appear before it.
State Grand Juries
States use grand juries as well, but often have other ways to issue an indictment, such as a preliminary hearing before a judge who decides whether the evidence shows that a crime may have occurred. Most states require a grand jury to consist of anywhere from 12-23 members. State grand juries serve for a variety of terms varying from 1 month to more than a year. Some grand juries in large urban areas convene every day for several weeks.
Grand juries have the power to subpoena or require a witness to appear and testify. A subpoena is a formal document commanding a witness to appear before the grand jury on and at a certain date, time and place. A subpoena can also require the production of documents. Like courts, grand juries can issue subpoenas and freely use them to compel a witness to testify or to summon physical evidence, documents and records.
Can I be picked to serve on a grand jury, and what do I do to get excused from duty?
States use voter lists and drivers’ license databases to randomly choose members of a grand jury. Your chances of getting called for grand jury service are the same as serving on a jury in a trial. You are automatically excused for a variety of reasons including being over a certain age, illness or incapacity, or employment in a public safety position, such as a police officer. Additionally, the court may excuse you if you can show that serving will cause a hardship. Hardships include missing regular work or being unable to care for small children.
I have been chosen as a member of a grand jury. What should I expect when I arrive at the courthouse?
Every court has a different procedure, but you can generally expect to check in with a clerk who is assigned to receive potential jurors. You will be sent to a room where you will undergo some type of orientation regarding your schedule, duties and payment. Your role as a grand juror will be explained, and you will learn about the process of investigating crimes and returning indictments. The clerk, prosecutor or judge can conduct the orientation.
If you are serving on a federal grand jury, you will meet the U.S. Attorney for the federal district in which the court sits. The U.S. Attorney’s office employs many different lawyers who you will deal with in the course of your service.
TIP: The government publishes “The Handbook for Federal Grand Juries” that may or may not be given to you at the time of your orientation. If you do not receive one, ask the clerk or U.S. Attorney’s office. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts publishes the Handbook, and you should contact them directly if you are unable to get a copy in your district. You can also view a copy online at www.uscourts.gov/districtcourts.html.
As a member of a grand jury, what are my duties and responsibilities?
You are required to listen to the evidence presented to you by the prosecutor, discuss it and vote whether to issue an indictment charging a person with a crime. A grand juror has the right to ask questions of the witnesses. In federal court and most states, you can address your question to the witness directly.
You will frequently hear testimony from police officers and state and federal agents concerning crimes. You will examine reports and records made by those officers and agents that contain facts concerning the crimes. It is possible that you will hear evidence of dozens of similar crimes in a single day. Service on a grand jury is time-consuming. You will sit and listen to evidence, testimony and records being read by attorneys.
I think a grand jury may be investigating me. How can I get information concerning their investigation?
Grand juries meet in “secret.” The evidence, testimony of witnesses and other matters that occur when a grand jury is convened are not disclosed to the public in order to protect ongoing investigations and the privacy of persons not yet charged with a crime. If you are under investigation by a federal grand jury, there is no duty to inform you. However, as a policy, federal prosecutors send someone who is the “target” of an investigation a notice informing the person of her rights and setting out the crime being investigated. Some states also utilize “target letters.” If you receive a target letter, retain an attorney as soon as possible.
SIDEBAR: Prosecutors, judges and grand jury members cannot and will not provide you with any information concerning an investigation. Witnesses, however, are not under any such “gag order” and can provide information; but they are often cooperating with the grand jury and will not talk to you.
CAUTION: Under no circumstance should you ever contact a member of the grand jury. It is a crime under federal law to attempt to influence a grand jury member, including asking one of them whether you are being investigated.
I received a subpoena requiring me to appear before a grand jury and testify. Do I have to go?
You may not have committed a crime, but could still find yourself involved with a grand jury if you have knowledge of certain facts concerning a criminal act. The subpoena often requires you to bring any documents you have that concern the investigation. If you do not appear on the date and time indicated in the subpoena with all requested documents, you may be held “in contempt of court” and either fined, jailed or both.
TIP: The grand jury subpoena has two boxes indicating whether you are being subpoenaed to testify as a witness or to provide documents, or both. If only the document box is checked, you or your lawyer should contact the prosecutor and find out exactly what documents he wants you to bring prior to appearing in front of the grand jury. Your goal is to cooperate and avoid any misunderstandings with the prosecutor and grand jurors.
I have been subpoenaed as a witness to testify before a grand jury. I may also be the subject of a grand jury investigation. Do I need to retain an attorney, although I have not been charged?
It is highly advisable to retain an attorney should you be called as a witness. Often a witness is put in a situation where what she says can incriminate her in the crime. If you are unable to afford an attorney in a federal case, one will be provided upon request. Some states also require that an attorney be appointed for indigent witnesses.
If you become aware of or are informed that you are the target of a grand jury investigation, you should retain an attorney. Federal courts, and some state courts, have adopted rules for furnishing lawyers if you cannot afford one.
You must contact the court and determine the process for having an attorney appointed if you cannot afford one. Payment of fees, the number of copies that are required to be filed, the existence of mandatory e-filing and other logistics involved in an application for the appointment of an attorney must be followed exactly.
TIP: Federal courts have Web sites setting out their rules and often have forms available for downloading. Contact the court clerk for information or check www.uscourts.gov/districtcourts.html to locate the Web site for your particular court.
Can I bring my attorney with me into the grand jury room?
No. In federal court, your attorney may not accompany you to testify before a grand jury. The attorney is generally outside the grand jury room for consultations. You must attend alone, but you are allowed to confer with your attorney at “reasonable” intervals upon your request. The prosecutor and your attorney determine the meaning of “reasonable.” In some situations, a witness will consult with his attorney before answering every question.
Can I refuse to answer questions put to me before the grand jury?
Usually, you must answer the questions from the grand jury or you will be held in contempt, then fined, jailed or both. However, if your answer would provide evidence that you committed a crime, you can refuse to answer and invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
If you have been given immunity from prosecution, you cannot invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege and may be forced to answer, since you have a promise from the prosecutor that what you say will not be used against you. “Taking the Fifth” is a complex matter with many legal ramifications, and you are advised to retain an attorney or ask the court to appoint one for you any time this situation arises.
SIDEBAR: Certain privileges, such as those applied to attorney-client, physician-patient, or husband-wife relationships, allow a witness to avoid answering questions regarding communications within the relationship. These are called evidentiary privileges, and the laws differ between state and federal courts as to which ones are recognized and available for a witness to claim or invoke during her testimony.
I am missing work to testify before the grand jury. Do I get any sort of payment or reimbursement to compensate me for my missed wages and expenses?
If you have testified before a federal grand jury, you will receive an attendance fee of $30. Federal law also requires that you be reimbursed for reasonable travel expenses. If you have driven yourself in your vehicle, you will get a mileage allowance. Incidental fees such as bridge, road and tunnel tolls and parking expenses are also reimbursed. If you are testifying before a state grand jury, most states pay an attendance fee and provide reimbursement for travel expenses. The clerk to whom you report will have information concerning special forms you may be required to fill out.
TIP: Keep copies of all receipts. They are required for reimbursement of your expenses.
I recently testified in front of a grand jury. My family is curious about my experience and the local newspaper has called. Can I talk about my testimony and other matters that occurred while I was in the grand jury room?
In federal court, a witness is not required to remain silent after giving his testimony, and can disclose the questions asked and other matters that went on in the grand jury room. Many states also do not prohibit witnesses from speaking about their experience. Before you do disclose any information to anyone, check with the prosecutor and confirm that you can talk publicly about your grand jury testimony.
CAUTION: It is not uncommon for a witness to enter into an agreement with the prosecutor concerning her own criminal actions in exchange for testimony. If you have made such an agreement, speaking out will be prohibited. Once you do so, you are no longer “cooperating” and could also be indicted.
My underage child has been a victim of a crime and is testifying before a grand jury. Can anyone accompany her into the grand jury room?
Yes. Children can and do testify before grand juries as victims or witnesses. Special protections of privacy and confidentiality for the child are mandated in federal courts and many state courts. Prosecutors and courts are strongly advised to appoint an attorney for the child. Unlike an adult, the child has the right to have her attorney present while she is in front of the grand jury. More information concerning children testifying in court and in front of a grand jury can be found at: www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/courts/specialissues/iet.cfm#child_test.
An indictment, or charge, is the official means by which a person is charged with a felony. It is a formal written document issued by a grand jury after it hears evidence regarding the facts of the alleged crime. After an indictment is returned, a warrant for arrest is issued and the person accused of the crime is taken into custody.
The indictment must meet certain requirements or it will be found by the courts to be defective and will then be dismissed. The indictment must state the accused’s name, set out the facts of the criminal act and the specific elements present that resulted in a violation of the law. Special language and written formats may also be required.
Questions and Answers
An arrest means that a police officer, or other government agent, has taken you into her custody or detained you. An indictment is not necessary for an arrest. It is also not necessary for the police officer to say, “You are under arrest.”
You may be taken into custody based on acts witnessed by law enforcement, items found in a search of your vehicle or home, on the report of another person, or because of any other evidence that you participated in a crime. Additionally, most states allow private citizens to make arrests if a crime is witnessed.
Once arrested, you will be searched, informed of your Miranda rights, handcuffed or restrained in some fashion and placed in a police vehicle. You will be taken to a local police station and “booked” (fingerprinted, photographed and formally admitted into jail). After booking, you will be held for a period of time while the paperwork for your arrest is completed. During this time, you will be able to contact or consult with an attorney and attempt to make bail.
I have been arrested on a misdemeanor offense. Do I have to submit to a strip search?
Possibly not. If the crime for which you have been arrested is not serious enough to warrant a search of body cavities, a search would infringe your constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Protest to a jail supervisor, threaten to a file a lawsuit and contact an attorney as soon as possible if the strip search is attempted.
Is it a crime to resist arrest?
Yes, and you will be charged with resisting arrest in addition to as the original criminal act that triggered the arrest. You will have the opportunity to assert your rights in court at the proper time. Do not try to assert your rights by resisting arrest.
I was wrongfully arrested. Do I have a remedy?
Yes,. If you were in fact arrested without a legal basis, it may be possible to bring a civil lawsuit against the arresting entity, such as a city, and collect money damages. However, if the arrest is proper, any civil suit you bring will be dismissed, even if you are eventually found innocent of the crime.
I was arrested several years ago. Can I get the arrest removed from my record?
Yes. If the charges were dismissed, the time to prosecute has expired or you were found “not guilty,” you can have your arrest “expunged” or removed from public records.
How do I get an arrest removed from my criminal record?
You must file a legal petition requesting that all mention of the arrest be removed. The petition is filed with the court that issued the criminal charge against you. Most states have laws requiring removal or expungement for certain offenses, such as drug possession, that did not result in a conviction. Check state laws to find out if you are eligible for an automatic expungement.
TIP: If you had an attorney, contact her and ask about getting your record expunged. You can also call the public defender’s office in your county and ask for guidance. They may give you a sample petition. Once you file a petition, you will appear before the judge and request removal of the arrest. Once the judge orders your arrest expunged, it must be deleted and removed from public databases.
Interrogation and Miranda Rights
You have heard the phrase “read him his rights” on TV all of your life, but what does it really mean? Miranda rights are the constitutional rights of which you must be informed after an arrest or detainment. These famous rights come from a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision of the same name that requires law enforcement agents, including arresting officers, to notify you that before you are questioned:
- you have the right to remain silent;
- anything you say may be held against you in a court of law;
- you have the right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning; and
- you may have an attorney appointed to represent you if you cannot afford one.
The consequences of waiving your Miranda rights and talking to the police vary with each specific fact situation. Generally, if you receive a Miranda warning and respond to police questioning, you have waived your rights and what you say is admissible in a court against you.
Situations where Miranda warnings are necessary also depend on the specific facts. Miranda warnings are always required where an individual is taken into custody and interrogated. In other situations, a Miranda warning is not required and involuntary statements made to police can later be used against you, even if you were not “read your rights.” For example, a police officer does not have to give a Miranda warning to a driver during a traffic stop. If the driver volunteers she has been drinking, that statement can be used against her during a DUI trial.
The topic of Miranda is very complex, and the answers below are only a basic starting point in an inquiry concerning self-incriminating statements.
I want to cooperate with the police. Can I waive my Miranda rights and answer their questions?
Yes. If you waive them voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently, then the rights you are entitled to under Miranda no longer apply. Whatever you say during questioning can be used against you. However, if you are under some mental disability or have been told it is more important to cooperate with police than enforce your Miranda rights by staying silent, it is possible your waiver will be void.
I have been arrested and am now being detained at the county jail. No one has given me my Miranda rights. Am I entitled to be released?
No. Just because you have not been given a Miranda warning does not mean you cannot be detained or put into custody for a time. Of course, should you be questioned, none of your statements can be used against you without the proper Miranda warnings.
I did not request a lawyer after I was read my Miranda rights, but I want one now. Can I reverse my decision and have a lawyer represent me?
Yes. Your Miranda rights allow you to request a lawyer at any time during questioning or interrogation. This applies even if you initially refused one outright but have now changed your mind. Of course, anything you said prior to an attorney representing you is not protected.
I am concerned that a family member who does not speak English may be arrested. Is he entitled to an interpreter before being given his Miranda rights?
Yes. Miranda warnings are ineffective if the arrested person does not understand them.
How long does it take before my court-appointed attorney shows up?
It depends, but more than a day is probably unreasonable. Furthermore, once you have requested attorney, the police cannot question you unless you initiate further communications with the officers.
I was questioned by the police at the station house, but was never given a Miranda warning. Now I am being charged based on what I said. How can what I said be used against me if I never received a Miranda warning?
You must be “in custody” in order to be entitled to be given a Miranda warning. An actual arrest is not required. Only a person in custody must be given a Miranda warning, and if not, anything he says cannot be used against him.
A person is considered to be in custody anytime he is placed in an environment in which he feels he is unable to leave or is restrained as if an arrest had in fact occurred. If you were told that you were free to leave at anytime, even if you were being questioned in a police station, you were not in custody and your answers can be considered voluntarily. Whatever you said can be used against you.
SIDEBAR: A person who does not understand English, is new to the country, is refused bathroom breaks, etc. has a good argument that he was in custody and his Miranda rights were violated.
I witnessed a crime and the police questioned me at the scene. Now I am worried that what I said might implicate me. Since I was never given a Miranda warning, can what I said be used against me?
Yes. You are only entitled to a Miranda warning if you are in custody. At the scene of a crime, with other bystanders and in a public location, you were free to leave. Since you were not in a place or environment where you felt detained, the police had no duty to give you a Miranda warning and can use your statements against you in a court of law.
Yesterday, I was given a Miranda warning and questioned while in police custody. I was picked up again today and questioned, but not given a Miranda warning. Can what I said today be used against me?
No. Miranda warnings do not last forever. Where there is a significant lapse of time between the warning and your statements, you can argue that you did not knowingly and voluntarily waive your Miranda rights. A lapse of hours can be considered significant, so in your case, the passage of a day probably requires new Miranda warnings.
While in custody, I was given a Miranda warning and questioned by the local police. I was moved to another floor of the detention center and federal agents questioned me on the same matters without repeating the Miranda warning. Can what I said to the federal agents be used against me?
Yes, if no significant lapse of time has passed. Where there is an uninterrupted flow of questioning, even though the location and agencies change, the original Miranda warnings have not been diluted or expired. If you answer the federal agents’ questions, you are voluntarily waiving your Miranda rights and what you say can be used against you.
I was pulled over while driving, questioned by the police and given a sobriety test without being given a Miranda warning. The questioning continued even after I said I wanted an attorney. Should their questioning have stopped immediately?
No. You were not “in custody” in this specific situation and thus not entitled to a Miranda warning. Your repeated requests for an attorney had no effect on the officers’ ability to continue to question you. You did not have to answer their questions; however, you continued to make statements, and those statements can be used against you.
SIDEBAR: In DUI cases, you are not entitled to a Miranda warning when:
- you are questioned at the scene of a traffic stop before an arrest is made;
- you make voluntary statements;
- the officer requests a test of your alcohol level; and
- you consent to a field sobriety test.
TIP: If you are stopped in your vehicle and asked, “Have you been drinking?,” you have the right not to answer.
My preteen was questioned by the police and confessed to being part of some criminal activity. He was told of his Miranda rights prior to acknowledging his participation. Can this “confession” be used against him?
Yes. Your child can waive his Miranda rights and confess to the police. However, age is a factor that the courts will consider in determining whether your son’s waiver of his Miranda rights was voluntary and knowing. Youth, confusion and acquiescence to police authority can show that the statements were made without your child understanding his Miranda rights or comprehending the consequences of speaking.
In deciding whether a minor’s confession is voluntary, the court will examine the circumstances of his detention and interrogation, including:
- the length of the questioning;
- whether promises or threats were made by the police;
- if she was given an opportunity to contact his parents or guardian;
- his prior experience with the police;
- his education and intelligence; and
- his mental state at the time of questioning.
I am concerned that a family member with a severe mental disability does not understand her Miranda rights and has confessed to a crime. Is her confession admissible?
No. For a Miranda warning to be effective, the warning itself must be understood and the possible consequences of waiving Miranda and confessing or answering questions fully comprehended. If your relative did not have the capacity to understand and comprehend her rights, her confession cannot be used against her.
The police came to my home and questioned my brother about his involvement in a burglary. He confessed before he was given Miranda warnings. After he received his Miranda warnings, he confessed again. Are his confessions admissible?
Yes. Although your brother may have felt that since he had already informed the police of his involvement, he had no choice but to confess even after the warnings. However, if the officers did nothing to forcefully coerce the second confession, your brother’s post-Miranda statements effectively waived his Miranda rights, and will be used against him.
If security guards are questioning me at airport checkpoints, do they have to give me a Miranda warning to use my statements against me?
No. Just as border crossings allow for searches of person entering the country without a warrant, anything you say to airport personnel during routine questioning can be used against you. The courts have held that Miranda does not apply to questions concerning your citizenship, your destination, your possessions and other inquires typically posed to passengers. Furthermore, although you may be “detained” during the routine questioning, you are not in custody, and you do not have to be given a Miranda warning.
However, if the questions get into issues outside routine matters, or if other officers appear and you are taken to another location away from the normal security checkpoint, you are in custody and a Miranda warning should be given. Furthermore, once you are found to be in possession of contraband, weapons or other suspicious materials, you are “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda and the officers must notify you of your rights or your statements are inadmissible.
Extradition allows persons charged with crimes and who flee the charging jurisdiction to be returned to the state in which the crime was committed. For example, an accused charged in Texas who flees to California will be returned to Texas for trial if he is caught and if the severity of the crime warrants extradition. Much of the extradition process is governed by the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which most states have adopted. The Act sets out guidelines for accomplishing an extradition and gives the fugitive certain rights during the process.
Those fleeing after being charged with a federal crime are extradited under the Fugitive Felon Act. Where federal courts have jurisdiction, state extradition laws are not applicable.
In most states, you may not be held in custody for longer than 48 hours without being charged. You will be charged when you go before a judge or magistrate at your initial appearance. This procedure is also called an arraignment or preliminary hearing, depending on the state. There you will hear the charges being made against you, and you will be asked to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” You can also choose to plead nolo contendere (or “no contest”).
What happens at my preliminary hearing?
- The charges will be read to you, and the possible penalties explained.
- You will be advised of your right to a trial and the right to trial by jury if desired.
- Your right to be represented by an attorney will be explained and an attorney will be appointed if you cannot afford one.
- You will plead “guilty,” “not guilty” or nolo contendere.
If you plead “guilty,” a date for sentencing will be set, and you will be taken to jail. A trial date is set when you plead “not guilty,” and you may also be returned to jail.
In felony cases, a “not guilty” plea requires the prosecutor to present evidence to the court that probable cause exists for charges to be brought against you. If the judge finds that probable cause is lacking, the matter is dismissed, and you will be released. If the judge finds that probable cause exists, you will be officially charged with the crime.
Pleading nolo contendere (or “no contest”) has much the same effect as pleading guilty, without the defendant accepting or denying any wrongdoing. A person may choose to make a plea of nolo contendere rather than “guilty” so that the plea cannot be used against him in another cause of action.
Bail and Bail Bond
“Bail” is the money paid to the court to obtain the release from jail of an arrested person. Bail is set and paid prior to trial so that a defendant can continue to work, support his family and help prepare a defense. The right to bail is based on the premise that individuals are presumed innocent of a crime until proven guilty. However, the defendant must be able to give adequate assurance to the court that he will appear at trial and be available for sentencing.
Bail is the actual cash tendered to the court to guarantee the defendant’s appearance when called to trial. The amount of bail is set by a judge and depends on the severity of the crime, past criminal history and economic factors.
A “bond” is not cash. It is a financial guarantee, along with a cash payment, provided to the court by a licensed agent operating a bail bond agency. He or she is called the “bondsman.” The agency guarantees the defendant’s appearance in court and will be responsible for full payment of the bail if he does not appear.
The federal government has its own bail and bond system that differs substantially from the state systems that are discussed below.
I have been arrested. What is the amount of my bail?
If you have been arrested on a misdemeanor, the jailor typically has a standard recommended bond for each offense. For instance, if you have been arrested on a DUI charge where neither a collision nor injuries have occurred, the misdemeanor judge may have set a standard $500 bail amount, with only a 10 percent payment actually required for release. In that case, you make a payment to the jail of $50 and you will be released.
Felonies are very different. Standard bail amounts for felony offenses are rarely set because the facts of each case vary tremendously. If you are arrested on a felony charge, a judge will be contacted to set your bail.
What will the judge consider in setting a bail amount?
The judge will consider a number of factors. These include:
- the seriousness of the offense;
- the prior criminal record of the defendant;
- the likelihood of defendant committing another offense while out on bail;
- the possibility of flight from the area;
- whether the defendant’s job and family are located in the area;
- the permanency of the defendant’s current situation (e.g., ownership of property, length of employment, having a family and children); and
- the defendant’s cooperation in abiding by certain conditions such as surrendering a passport or staying in the area.
I have heard of being released “own your own recognizance.” What does that mean?
Where minor offenses are involved, you can be released from jail without payment of bail after your arrest. States have different terms for this process, such as “personal bail” or “writing your own bond.”
You will have to sign a document, called a “bond,” guaranteeing your appearance in court at a later date. This type of bond is secured or guaranteed by collateral you put up, such as real estate, vehicles or jewelry. The sheriff of the county where you have been arrested will certify the value of the property, and you will be released on your “own bond.” If you do not later appear in court, not only must you surrender any property you put up, you will then be responsible for full payment of the bail amount.
SIDEBAR: The property you put up as collateral must be nonexempt property or property that cannot be seized by law. In most states, exempt property includes your home (known as your homestead), which you will not be able to use to guarantee your bond.
My bail has been set. Who do I pay?
Typically, you will make your payment at the jail facility where you are being held. If you have been brought to the courthouse and are there when your bail is set, you can pay the designated court clerk.
TIP: Personal checks are never accepted. Find out the type of payment required. Usually, jail facilities accept cash, certified checks and money orders. Court clerks may accept only cash.
I have always heard that you only have to pay a percentage of bail to be released from jail. Why am I being required to pay the full amount?
Depending on the state, a certain percentage payment is only possible when bail is set below a certain amount. For example, your state may require full payment where bail is set at $2,500 or more. If your bail was $2,000, you would only be required to pay $200 for your release in a 10-percent state. However, if your bail is set at $2,500, you must pay the entire amount.
Once a bail amount is set, can it be increased?
Yes. On a motion by the state, the court can be petitioned to increase the amount of bail. The increase can be based on any number of factors, including discovery of additional facts surrounding the crime or past criminal activity. Additional charges can be added that also may increase the amount of bail.
Is there any time bail would be refused or not set?
Yes. Some states, by law, deny bail on capital murder charges where the evidence is clear and persuasive. However, nearly all offenses are considered “bailable” pursuant to your constitutional right of presumed innocence.
I cannot afford bail. Can someone else pay it for me?
Yes. In most states, any person more than 18 years old can pay your bail or you can use a bail bond agency.
I posted a percentage of bail for a family member who can no longer be located. If she fails to show up for her court appearance, do I have to pay the full amount of bail?
Yes. Once you posted the bail, you become responsible for the full amount (and signed off on a bond document to that effect). You may also forfeit the original percentage you paid. In other words, you will not receive a credit toward the full amount due.
It is possible to have the bail you forfeited returned to you through a procedure called “remission of forfeiture” if the defendant is eventually apprehended and taken into custody. The application must be filed within a year of the original bail forfeiture in most states.
My bail has been set and my family cannot raise the money. What do I do to get out of jail?
If you and your family members are unable to raise the actual cash amount of the bail or even a percentage, you can attempt to “write you own bond.” Some states allow you to tender real property or intangible assets, such as stocks, certificates of deposit or letters of credit from your bank in lieu of cash bail.
Can I charge my bail amount on my credit card?
Many jails will accept a credit card. The amount is processed by an outside agency, and you can expect to be charged a special service fee on the transaction.
Do I ever get my bail money back?
Yes. When your case is concluded, either by dismissal, trial or some other process, the court will order its return (“exonerates the bail”) to you.
I paid my own bail. If I do not appear in court, what are the consequences?
Your failure to appear is a crime, and you can be prosecuted and convicted of “bail jumping.” If you are charged with a felony, your failure to appear is likewise considered a felony.
You can also expect your original bail amount to increase substantially. Many courts double the amount as a standard policy.
SIDEBAR: State laws may allow a defendant who has failed to appear to plead “reasonable excuse.” What is “reasonable” depends on the facts but severe illness, erroneous information regarding court dates or other unintentional events will generally suffice where you can show you attempted to contact the court.
What is a “bail bondsman”?
A bail bondsman is a professional, licensed individual who will pay a percentage of your bail so that you may be released from jail. The bondsman is, in effect, loaning you money.
How do I contact a bail bondsman?
The best place to start is the jail itself. Jails are overcrowded and jail officials want you to post bail to make room for serious offenders. Jail personnel and criminal courts regularly work with local bail bond agencies and have a list of bondsmen you can quickly contact.
TIP: The Internet is replete with information and advertisements for bail bondsman. Be wary of the claims made on different sites. It is much safer to rely on actual word of mouth.
The jail’s bail bond agency list is long and I do not know which one to contact. Will anyone at the jail give me, or anyone in my family, a recommendation for a bondsman?
No. Jail officials, and most other public officials such as prosecutors, judges and police officers, are prohibited by law from recommending a particular bail bond agency to anyone.
How do I know the bondsman I contact is properly licensed?
Ask to see a copy of the actual license issued by the state. The license must show, at a minimum, the name of the bondsman and the expiration date. Most states even make it a criminal offense to advertise in the Yellow Pages as a bail bondsman without possessing a valid license.
Can my attorney act as my bondsman?
Yes. Attorneys can acts as bondsman for their clients.
Is there a fee for obtaining a bond through a bail bond agency?
Yes. The bondsman charges a nonrefundable fee based on the amount of bail. The fee is generally the maximum amount allowed under state law. You can expect the fee to equate to approximately 10 percent or more of the bail amount. You, or whoever contracted with the bondsman, can sometimes make regular payments toward the fee.
TIP: The bond business is very competitive. Do not be shy about “shopping around” the fee. If you are a good risk, you can probably find a lower fee than the maximum allowed by law.
Is the bail bond agency required to give me a receipt?
In many states, a receipt is required. If you are not given a dated receipt for payment of the service fee, ask for one. The receipt will be proof of the agency’s obligation to post your bail. Make sure the receipt includes:
- your name or the name of the person who is paying money or giving something of value to the bondsman on your behalf;
- the amount of money paid or the estimated value of the property given;
- a description of the property if it is given or transferred to the bondsman;
- the number of your case, including the name of the court; and
- the name of the bondsman and the agency, along with an address and telephone number.
I cannot pay the entire agency fee. Can I still get a bondsman to help me out?
Yes. It is not uncommon for the fee to be paid out over time. If the fee is $500 and you can only pay $100, you may be allowed to pay out the remainder of the fee on a weekly basis.
TIP: Do not miss a payment. If a payment is missed, the bondsman may assume you have fled and make a motion with the court to forfeit the bond and a second arrest warrant will be issued for you.
Does a bondsman have to give me a bond?
No. If the bondsman determines you are a bad risk and will flee or disappear, he will not post bail for you. You will remain in jail until you can post bail or find a bail bond agency that will loan you the money.
My agreement with the bondsman requires me to stay in the county, call him every week and give him my passport. Do I have to comply?
Yes. You are required to abide by the terms of your contract with the bondsman. Although the court does not require you to stay in the county, the bondsman is permitted to put all types of limitations on you.
What is “collateral”?
Collateral is property of some sort that is pledged or given to the bail bond agency in return for its payment of bail to the court. It can be stocks, jewelry, vehicles and even real property.
Always review the bail bond form and make certain that the information is correct. The amount of the fee and the description of the collateral contained in the bail bond document set out your obligations.
A family member is in jail and has asked me to pay the bail. Can I go to a bondsman on behalf of my relative?
Yes. If you are more than 18 years old (in most states) you can enter into an agreement with the bondsman in order to get a family member or friend released from jail.
The bondsman wants me sign a document naming me as “indemnitor” on the bail bond. What does this mean?
As indemnitor, you are responsible for the defendant while she is out of jail on bail. The collateral you have pledged to obtain the bond will be forfeited to the bail bond agency should the defendant fail to appear in court as directed. By acting as indemnitor, you risk losing your collateral.
Can my bond be set aside or revoked?
Yes. The court can revoke your bond and you can be retaken into custody. You continue to have the right to seek another bond.
SIDEBAR: A common condition of release on bail or bond is that the defendant undergoes drug testing. If you should fail a drug test, it is likely the court will revoke your bond and you will go back to jail. However, you still have the right to have a bail amount set and pay it to obtain your release.
Can I “switch” bondsman after I have entered into an agreement with one and been released from jail?
Yes. However, but at a minimum you will lose any fees you have paid, plus owe the amount of cash the bondsman put up to get you released. If you cannot pay what you owe, the collateral you pledge will be seized as well. Make sure you carefully check your bond agreement before you decide to switch.
If I do not appear in court, what will happen?
The bondsman will file a motion with the court, sometimes called a Motion to Surrender Principal (the person for whom the bond was written), based on your failure to appear or cooperate. The court typically grants the motion and issues a capeas or second arrest warrant. The court can also declare the bond forfeited by entering a judgment nisi.
Your bail bondsman or his agent, commonly known as a “bounty hunter,” will then pursue you. By skipping a court appearance, the bondsman now owes the entire amount of bail unless he quickly locates you. Your disappearance also means that the bondsman takes any collateral pledged. Thus, if your parents pledged their vehicle against your bail and you flee, the bondsman has the right to seize the vehicle immediately.
CAUTION: The motion to surrender can be filed at any time, not just when you fail to appear in court. If you have failed to make a weekly payment to the bondsman, for example, he can and will file the motion.
A second arrest warrant has been issued for me on my bondsman’s motion to the court. What can I do to fight the motion?
You have the right to appear in court and contest, or fight, the motion. You will be allowed to explain to the judge why you did not make a payment or if you left the county. If the court finds that you were “surrendered” without reasonable cause, the bondsman can be ordered to refund all or part of the fees you have paid him.
My bail bondsman is not a police officer. How can he arrest me and take me into custody?
Your bondsman has far-reaching legal rights over you that exceed even police authority, by virtue of your contract with him. He and his agents can legally pursue you across state lines, arrest you and detain you without a warrant, using deadly force if necessary.
Those who flee should expect to be found. A bondsman requires a myriad of information before he will post your bail. Not only will you have to provide your home and work addresses and phone numbers, you will have to provide information on friends, family members, spouses and former spouses, children, employers and former employers. The well-connected bounty hunter also has access to credit, utility, phone and welfare agency records.
Exactly what is a bounty hunter?
Bounty hunters are paid by bondsmen to locate defendants who have fled or disappeared. Generally, they are not licensed or regulated by the state. Like bondsmen, they have almost unlimited legal rights over a defendant in order to return him or her to the state or county that has jurisdiction. Bounty hunters are not required to be formally trained and states generally do not have guidelines that they must follow.
I missed a court appearance and my first bond was set aside. What happens now?
Once you are found, you are taken into custody and your bail amount is typically doubled. You are then back in the position of finding another bondsman. Because you are now considered a flight risk, you can expect to pay a higher fee amount, put up more collateral and be subject to greater limitations on your movement under the terms of your new bond agreement.
When do I get my collateral back?
Once the bond is no longer in effect, typically after your trial, your collateral will be returned to you. The court must order the bond “exonerated” before the bail bondsman returns your collateral.
My case has been dismissed. My bondsman refuses to give back some valuable coins I gave as collateral. What can I do?
You can file a complaint with the agency overseeing bondsmen in your state. Your county may have a bail bond board, which sets guidelines and regulations for bondsmen. This board will have the ability to pressure your bondsman into returning your collateral.
I was convicted but am now appealing. I have been out of jail on a bond but now my bondsman wants his bond discharged. What does this mean?
Some states do not require a bondsman to continue to guarantee your appearance once you have been convicted and are appealing. Your bondsman has the right to ask the court to release him from, or discharge, the bond. You will be returned to custody unless you can obtain an appeal bond. Additionally, the bondsman keeps all the fees you have paid.