What to do if you are arrested and charged with a criminal offence. Advice from someone who has been there.
Stuff happens. I was arrested for a criminal offence and was on bail for three years before the case against me was dropped in a UK Crown Court. I was confused, angry, in fact, mad as hell, so I tried to be creative and ending up writing two books about it. I intend to include edited extracts here on Medium. It might be of use or interest to somebody one day.
I feel I need to share some final thoughts. If you (or a family member or friend) find yourself (him/herself) in a crazy pickle, this is what to do or, at the very least, consider:
Follow the duty solicitor’s advice which might well be to answer ‘no comment’ to any questions in the police interview. This might go against your instinct of wanting to be forthright and honest. Don’t. Forget it. Trust me as I reinforce NightJack’s advice (see Part 1, Mad As Hell). Get over the idea that you have nothing to hide and if you share your thoughts, all will be well. Remember, you can always submit a statement the following day using your own words having had a period of reflection. If you are still unsure, just remember, you can always place your house at the bookmakers. Oh, and yes, access to your children and the ability get visas to all those places you wanted to visit. The police are a self-interest group bent on prosecution. That is their raison d’etre. So, listen to the solicitor, and, to my mind, just answer ‘no comment’.
Buy a Dictaphone. Record everything that occurs to you. Your head will be all over the place in the following weeks and months (even years). Record the slightest little detail that pops into your head. Record answers to questions that you might be asked on the witness stand. Record thoughts that occur to you while driving, dozing off, walking to the off-licence. Do not let any detail slip by.
Follow up everything that occurs to you. Adopt the strategy that if the cosmos has slipped something into the back of your mind, it is for a reason. You might not know why at the time, but you might thank your lucky stars that you took heed of it and followed up on that little detail, that little lead.
Follow your instinct. It’s yours for a reason. It does not belong to anyone else. To my mind ‘instinct’ is like the umbilical cord to the cosmos and the cosmos is all-knowing. Space-time can be warped, bent, twisted and curled back on itself. Information moves through space and time, so it is reasonable to suggest it does not travel in one direction and in a straight line. Therefore take heed of ‘stuff’. You won’t know why at that time, but one day you will.
Keep a diary. Your head will spin. Monitor your movements and the development of your case. You can then use it at a later date.
Important. The solicitor will not get you off, clear your name, be your knight in shining armour. All the solicitor does is organise the information passed to him or her and liaise with the court and barrister and protect your rights in the eyes of the law. The solicitors should also hopefully ‘demand’ that the police follow the law, because, given the chance, the police will not. The law exists not just to protect society from baddies, it is to protect the society from the police. What you have to do is supply to the solicitors as much information as you possibly can, organised in the best, clearest most coherent way possible so that anyone picking up the document(s) understands what everything contained therein means without the benefit of background knowledge of you, the case, the law. Assume nothing in such documentation. Be concise and clear. Deal with facts. Remember there may be a time when you are sitting behind glass in a dock in a Crown Court with everyone else talking around you and about you except the burly guard sitting next to you. You will not be able to add anything to the discussion about the conditions in which you are going to spend the rest of your life. You do not want to be watching your nemesis on the witness stand spouting rubbish leaving you burning inside and wanting to scream to your Counsel ‘tell them about the fucking egg!’ because once you are enclosed in the glass dock no one can hear you scream. They can only watch you sit pale-faced and hunched over, while you valiantly try to stop yourself sobbing in disbelief at the events unfolding around and about you. So, yes, listen, get everything down on paper, clearly organised (as standalone documents), factual and readable.
Prepare (even embrace) the prospect of a guilty verdict and prison term. You’ll just panic too much if (or when) you feel it is going the other way. You cannot feel as if you are betting your liberty on a throw of the die. You should become accustomed to things going awry. Accept it, it’s life and life happens to other people in a far more miserable ways all the time. At time of writing an eight year old girl arriving at school in Toulouse had a gun put to her head and was shot dead by an Islamic extremist. God knows what her parents, the school principal, and the rest of her family will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Or the black seventeen year old boy heading home with a bag of Skittle sweets through his own gated community in the USA only to get gunned down at point blank range by a local neighbourhood guard.
When it comes to red herrings and dead-ends, don’t despair. Not only do you need to tick them off, but they might also steer you down another avenue of investigation or introduce you to another line of thinking. Persist, with an open mind. Besides, their value might become apparent much, much further down the line. Success is relative and often measured in units of time. At the very least you will have explored something that was bothering you and bought yourself some peace of mind.
Remember there will be bad days when you come across stuff that spooks you and there will be good days when you will be encouraged. You will be hormonal, expect it, accept it and write it off. Accept the mixed bag. Life’s a box of chocolates. Which leads me to:
Take the big, philosophical picture. This is just a journey. Believe in a form of karma. Listen to ‘Find Yourself’, the Brad Davis’ track from the Pixar movie Cars. In fact, watch Cars. It is all part of life’s rich tapestry as Joseph Campbell used to say. Stuff will happen that will change your friendships, work patterns and earning potential. Have faith a work-life balance will emerge which will lead to new opportunities and finally cash-flow of sorts. Make it work for you.
As well as finding yourself, distract yourself. Buy DVD box sets which both amuse you and distract you. You need something in which you can immerse yourself. I recommend, The West Wing, Studio 60. Anything by Pixar. Work in some comedy into your viewing habits too.
Space and support. Give space and support to the individual concerned. Give space and support to the spouse, partner, family going through the rubbish. It is a toughie. Everybody take a deep breath.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, remember the police are not the moral guardians of the universe. They are an instrument of the State. The police might represent themselves as being on the moral side of the argument, but that is a wholly separate issue to having ‘sound judgment’. It is their ‘judgment’ and competence which are questionable, not the moral role — hence the separation of the policing authorities from the criminal justice system, because if it were all left to the police, they’d fuck it up. Don’t fall into the trap that assumes that morality and sound judgment are interchangeable. It might appear a subtle difference to you today, but there might come a time when you understand that the gulf between the two is laughable. You have just as much right to fight your corner as hard as the police, and remember too, you do not have the vast resources and powers that the police authorities have at their disposal. They are a self-interest group intending to prosecute. They will have performance targets. They will play games. Try things on. You may get lucky and have a broadly sympathetic officer or detective, but don’t bank on it. It is a publicly-funded organisation which needs to justify its existence. And if they get it wrong they will not admit it; much of their ‘rubbishness’ is protected by law.
I have mixed feelings about the Criminal Justice System. In some ways I have a grudging respect for how it works in the UK. At a time when you are at your most vulnerable, confused (i.e. in the hours, weeks, months, er, years following an arrest) you have paid professionals there to fight your corner, represent your interests and even turn up the heat on the police. I wonder at the adversarial nature of the system and the stress that can result. Why so bureaucratic? Why three hearings in fully-staffed courts to consider the arrangements and dates for a trial? Why not a limit on the time a person can spend on bail?
In the UK at the moment all police personnel have to start at the bottom and rise through the ranks. An individual cannot transfer from another career into a mid-level post in the police ‘service’. To my mind the police should not be closed shop. There are many bright, finely attuned individuals who work in other careers who might consider working in the police and would bring relevant experience to the job. Just as we don’t want career politicians, we shouldn’t have career police personnel.
Police statistics. Police targets. All receive coverage in the Press. None of it is encouraging. All statistics can be manipulated. Bearing in mind an arrest can have a seriously detrimental affect on an individual’s personal and professional life, I wonder at the impact of policing on the population as a whole. If I had the time and energy, I might investigate and report on the following:
What percentage of arrests result in no charge?
What percentage of reports via ‘Crimestoppers’ resulted in ‘no charge’?
What percentage of reports via ‘Crimestoppers’ resulted in criminal convictions?
When and How does ‘Crimestoppers’ review and publicly disclose such information and an assessment of the abuse of its service?
What percentage of cases passed from police to the CPS are subsequently dropped?
What percentage of arrests lead to criminal convictions?
What percentage of trials end in acquittals?
What percentage of trials ending in acquittals are cleared, say, unanimously by a jury?
What measures are being considered to limit the amount of time an individual can remain on bail?
What is the cost associated with each of the above — not only to the police, solicitor(s), the CPS and in court time, but also the cost to the defendant (loss of earnings and any resulting trauma)? Being arrested dramatically harms an individual’s employment prospects, life chances and choices, so it should be done with care. I recall reading an article about a Police Officer who was being applauded as the hardest working officer with 50 arrests a month. How many of his arrests resulted in a conviction? When people applaud such a statistic are they aware the impact an arrest can have on a person’s employment prospects and family relationships? At a time of austerity when public services are being cut (including to the police force), people complain that it will affect the policing and safety of the public. Yet I wonder whether changing systems (bail practices, court appearances and scheduling, police and court work practices) would save just as much as the cuts themselves.
Has the experience changed me? All experiences inform a person’s development. I’m much the same. More weathered and seasoned. Tougher in some ways, weaker in others. Is there closure? Will I follow through? It would be nice to know the ‘intelligence’ that triggered the whole thing. And who knows, maybe others will be brought to book. It might take a while.
MAD AS HELL (Parts 1 and 2) available on Amazon and in bookstores. Further extracts and articles to follow on the law, mental health, court appearances, in fact, the whole three-year, life-defining episode.
Check out: www.madashell.website