Hollywood is, if nothing else, consistent. Decades and decades of action and crime movies have helped perpetuate some of the most well known, and factually inaccurate, myths about the criminal justice system. One of the most widely misunderstood myths is that of the “one phone call from jail”.
The One Phone Call From Jail Myth
Countless movies portray just-arrested criminals going to a police station and immediately demanding their “one phone call”. It’s become such a common trope that many people believe that they are legally entitled, upon arrest, to make a phone call from the police station to anyone they want.
While this a very convenient plot device for movies to introduce a new character to the story (often a lawyer), it has almost no basis in reality whatsoever.
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So, are people actually legally entitled to a phone call when they go to jail? No. Absolutely not.
The good news here is that in reality, someone who has just been arrested will potentially be able to make a phone call much sooner than when they get to the police station.
A lot of what happens during and after an arrest has to do with the officer or officers who make the arrest. The other major factor is the type of crime. Finally, how the person being arrested behaves will often influence what accommodations an officer is willing to make for them.
Generally speaking, the police will allow someone under arrest to contact a friend or family member via their mobile phone to alert them of what’s going on. Affording a defendant this courtesy makes the police look good, which will hopefully translate into a little goodwill down the road.
However, if the crime is violent, or the person under arrest resists and/or is uncooperative, the police will probably skip offering them a phone call.
Calling From Jail
This is where Hollywood usually goes right off the rails. Most people don’t know this, but almost every major jail has a phone system that lets prisoners make as many calls as they want, to whomever they want to call.
While access to the phone system is a privilege, not a right, the police and prosecutors love it when people make calls from this system for two specific reasons:
- Rates: The call rates on jail phones is beyond obscene, but the jail gets a cut of the money made on those calls, so they’re more than happy to let prisoners call as much as they want.
- Evidence: Every phone call a defendant makes from jail is recorded. Prosecutors love to listen to these phone calls to gather additional evidence.
So, rather than strictly limiting the number of calls a defendant can make after they’ve been arrested, they are usually encouraged to make as many calls as they want.
Who You Should Call First
It will likely come as no surprise to hear that the first call anyone should make after being arrested is to a criminal defense attorney, if possible.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will evaluate your case and determine what the best next steps are to help you get out of jail as quickly as they can. If someone you care about has just been arrested, call an attorney immediately.