What To Do If a Loved One Is Arrested by Federal Agents
Getting that devastating call or visit from federal agents informing you that your loved one has been arrested can be one of the most stressful and emotional experiences ever. Your mind is probably racing with questions and fears about what will happen next. Know that you are not alone in this difficult time. Many families have gone through this and come out the other side. While the situation may seem bleak now, there are steps you can take to support your loved one, understand the process, and work toward the most positive outcome possible.
Initial Shock and Processing
The first hours and days after a federal arrest are often the most confusing. You will likely feel a whirlwind of emotions – fear, anxiety, anger, sadness. All of these reactions are normal. Don’t hesitate to rely on your support system of close family and friends in this difficult time. Talking through your feelings and having people reassure you can help you process the initial shock.
It can also help to take care of yourself through proper rest, nutrition and exercise in the days following the arrest. The situation requires you to be at your best so you can take the right actions to support your loved one. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep each night, and do some light exercise like walking as you are able. Taking care of yourself will give you the strength you need.
When federal agents make an arrest, they may not explain the full charges or provide many details about what will happen next. Here are some tips for gathering helpful information following an arrest:
- Find out the charges. The arrest warrant should outline the specific charges your loved one is facing. Federal charges are usually related to violations of federal statutes, such as mail fraud, drug crimes, financial crimes or terrorism.
- Identify the agency. Was it the FBI, DEA, ATF or other federal law enforcement agency? This can help you understand more about the type of charges.
- Get information on the process ahead. Ask when and where the initial appearance will take place. This first hearing before a judge is typically within 24-48 hours of the arrest.
- Write down all the details. Keep a notebook handy and write down any details the agents provide – names, badge numbers, key dates and locations. These will be helpful later.
- Contact the jail. Once you know where your loved one is being held, call the facility to learn about visitation hours and policies.
Hiring a Federal Defense Attorney
One of the most important things you can do is to immediately hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. The legal system allows for very few mistakes, so having expert counsel is critical. Look for an attorney who specifically has experience with federal cases, not just state-level cases. Be sure to ask:
- How many federal criminal cases have you defended?
- What is your success rate in federal cases?
- Are you experienced with the specific charges my loved one is facing?
- How quickly can you meet with my loved one and get up to speed on the case?
Interview several attorneys before selecting one. Cost may be a factor, but don’t let it override finding the best legal representation possible. This could make all the difference in the outcome.
Understanding the Initial Court Appearance
Within 48 hours after the arrest, your loved one will be brought before a federal judge or magistrate for an initial appearance. Some things that will happen include:
- Learning the full charges. Your loved one will be formally presented with all the charges against them.
- Appointing counsel. If your loved one cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed.
- Entering a plea. A plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest will be entered, although this can be changed later.
- Setting bail. The judge will decide whether to release the defendant on bail and if so, what bail amount.
- Scheduling future hearings. Arraignment, status conferences, and trial dates may be set.
This is why hiring an attorney immediately is so important – that counsel can be present at this hearing and all others. Be sure to attend as well so you can continue gathering information.
Making Bail Arrangements
If the judge sets bail, the next step is taking care of the payment so your loved one can be released pending trial. Here are some options for covering bail costs:
- Pay in full. Putting up the full bail amount is the most straightforward option. The funds will be returned at the end of the case, minus any court fees.
- Use collateral. You may be able to use property or other assets as collateral without needing to liquidate them.
- Borrow from friends/family. Ask close family members and friends if they can contribute to the bail fund.
- Use a bail bondsman. These professionals will post bail for a fee, usually 10% of the full bail amount. This fee is non-refundable.
- Request a bail hearing. If bail seems unreasonable, your attorney can request a bail review hearing and argue for a reduced amount.
No matter how you proceed, start taking action quickly. The faster you can post bail, the sooner your loved one can be released to continue fighting their case.
Providing Support While in Custody
Even if you are unable to post bail immediately, there are still ways you can show your loved one they have your support:
- Visit regularly. Being in jail is lonely and scary. Regular visits from family and friends can improve morale and mood.
- Send letters. Write often so your loved one knows they are not forgotten. Share news and events happening outside.
- Deposit money. Putting money in their commissary account allows them to buy snacks, toiletries and other necessities.
- Check on their health. Make sure any medications, medical conditions or dietary needs are being managed. Alert staff to any concerns.
- Hire a prison consultant. These professionals can advise on ensuring safety and well-being in custody.
- Let them vent. Listen without judgment when they share frustrations. Offer reassurance that this situation is temporary.
- Remain positive. Keep focusing on the big picture of getting through this difficult season and moving forward.
Consulting with the Defense Attorney
After being hired, your loved one’s defense attorney will start building a legal strategy for the case. Some topics to discuss:
- Evidence gathering. The attorney will begin compiling evidence to refute or weaken the prosecution’s arguments.
- Witnesses. They will identify witnesses to interview who may have helpful testimony.
- Defense strategy. Viable defenses will be explored, such as mistaken identity or lack of criminal intent.
- Plea bargains. Negotiating a plea deal may be an option depending on the case specifics.
- Trial prospects. The attorney should give their assessment on chances if the case goes to trial.
- Potential outcomes. Understand the potential penalties if convicted, including prison time and fines.
- Appeal options. Even after conviction, there may be grounds for an appeal. This should be reviewed.
Thoroughly discussing the legal strategy will help you better understand the road ahead. Make sure you are comfortable with the attorney’s skills and approach.
Staying Strong as a Family
Beyond the legal process, the most important thing is supporting each other through this family crisis:
- Embrace empathy. Try to understand what your loved one is thinking and feeling right now. Listen without judgment.
- Keep communicating. Maintain regular contact through visits, calls, letters. Reassurance is critical.
- Explain to children. Use age-appropriate language when explaining the situation to kids. Keep reassuring them.
- Rely on your circle. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with supportive friends and family who uplift you.
- Take care of your health. Make time for proper sleep, nutrition and exercise. This sustains you to help your loved one.
- Keep hope alive. Remain positive and focused on the future. Believe that you have the strength to get through this together.
With loving support, empathy and patience, your family can survive this difficult season and come through it even more united and resilient. Stay strong.
Preparing for Trial
If your loved one’s case does go to trial, it is important to understand the federal court process and prepare yourselves emotionally:
- Review the evidence. The prosecution will present their evidence first. Understand what your side needs to refute or weaken.
- Know the potential penalties. Conviction could mean prison time, fines, probation or parole. Be ready for any outcome.
- Testify if needed. Your attorney may request your testimony if you have direct knowledge related to the case.
- Attend the trial. Your presence shows support and allows you to assist with information.
- Explain to children. If they are able to sit through sessions, prepare them for what will happen at trial.
- Lean on your support circle. Reach out to family and friends who understand what you are going through.
- Believe in your loved one’s innocence. Until the verdict is read, maintain hope that justice will prevail.
The trial process can be long and difficult, but try to take it one day at a time. Stay focused on the end goal of exoneration.
Coping with a Guilty Verdict
If your loved one is found guilty, it is crushing news. Allow yourself to fully process the emotions that come with their conviction and sentencing. Some tips:
- Let yourself grieve. Feeling shock, anger, sorrow or confusion is normal. Don’t suppress these feelings.
- Comfort each other. Share in the pain of this outcome. Hold each other up through the grief.
- Look for appeal options. Your attorney may advise filing an appeal of the verdict or sentence.
- Get support. This is an extremely difficult time. Surround yourself with caring family and friends.
- Focus on the future. Eventually shift energy to planning the next phase – visitation, parole, release.
- Take it day by day. Break the situation down into smaller steps. Don’t get overwhelmed looking too far ahead.
- Share your feelings. Confide in trusted friends and family who will listen without judgment.
- Practice self-care. Make sure you continue to eat, sleep and exercise even in your grief. This sustains you.
Though it seems impossible after a guilty verdict, maintain hope that you will get through this difficult time together as a family. Some additional tips:
- Allow yourself to grieve fully. The stages of grief often include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Be patient with yourself and your loved one as you work through the emotions.
- Focus on the present. Try not to dwell on the past or look too far into the future. Take things one day at a time.
- Prepare for changes. Your daily life will look different with your loved one incarcerated. Make practical adjustments to your routines.
- Research visitation rules. Understand the prison’s policies for visitation frequency, approved items, dress code, etc. Prepare any children for procedures.
- Explore educational programs. Many prisons offer classes or training that allow inmates to productively use time and gain skills.
- Stay strong physically and mentally. Make your self-care a priority so you can be resilient through this challenge.
- Join a support group. Connect with others who understand what you’re going through. Don’t isolate yourself.
- Write encouraging letters. Regular mail lets your loved one know you still care and provides a lifeline to the outside.
- Petition for an appeal if possible. Your attorney can advise if there are valid grounds to appeal the verdict or sentence.
- Have faith in the justice system. As difficult as it seems, trust that the outcome is according to established laws.
No matter how long the sentence, take things step by step. Support each other through letters, visits and empathy. Stay hopeful for the future, even if it looks different than you imagined. With love and perseverance, you will get through this together.