If you are notified or you find out that a warrant has been issued for your arrest in North Carolina, it is essential that you contact a qualified local lawyer right away to negotiate your peaceful surrender and get you turned in. You do not want to ignore it and risk getting arrested by surprise in a situation that is inconvenient, embarrassing, or even dangerous.
Here are some helpful steps that you or your lawyer can take for your safety, and to increase the chances that the process goes smoothly and you can get released as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Contact the Sheriff’s Office
First, making a call to the local sheriff’s office is a good first step to find out if there are any special instructions or rules for turning yourself in. The rules can change often in county lockups, and you want to make sure you bring everything you need so you can be processed quickly on arrival. If you have any medical conditions that require medication or specialized equipment, you will also need to know what procedures are in place to keep you healthy and whether you need to bring anything special on that front (such as medical records or your prescriptions) to make sure you will receive the care you need.
Do not say anything about your case during this process, at any time! You have the right to remain silent and anything you say (even seemingly innocent statements) can and will be used against you in court. The police may be courteous and make small talk, but you should simply say that you would like to remain silent and have your lawyer present for any questioning. Do not even talk to other people in lockup; they could tell the police what you say or the conversation might be recorded. It is best to say nothing. Leave the explanations and defenses for your lawyer to make, in court. With that said, you should be courteous, cooperative, and respectful. It will not necessarily get you through the process more quickly, but police and jail personnel will generally treat you like you treat them.
Wear presentable long pants and a conservative t-shirt or collared shirt that does not have any writing or graphics on it. It is not a good look to turn yourself in for drug charges or gun charges, only to show up in a t-shirt with a big picture of marijuana on it or a pro-gun slogan. Also leave things like tobacco products, nail files, and pocket knives at home. They are contraband in most county jails, including Wake County jails. You should memorize the telephone numbers of a family member and your lawyer or write them down on a piece of paper. Your cell phone will be taken away when you are booked, but you will usually be allowed to keep a piece of paper with phone numbers. You may need to call a family member and/or your lawyer about bail, or other issues that arise while you are still at the jail.
Getting in, and getting out
When you are booked, the police will search you, fingerprint you, photograph you, and fill out a lot of information on paperwork. They might require you to change into a jail jumpsuit. You will then appear before a magistrate who will set bail based on a range that depends on the type of charges you are facing. Magistrates are not allowed to set bail for certain types of charges. It is important to speak to a lawyer before turning yourself in, so you know if the magistrate is unable to set bail. In that case, you will definitely remain in jail until you can set up a hearing before a judge.
Before turning yourself in, you should have a good meal and use the bathroom. You should also think carefully about when you should turn yourself in. The worst days to turn yourself in are Friday, anytime over the weekend, or on Monday. Friday is bad because if bail is set too high by the magistrate for you to afford, you will not be able to get in front of a judge to argue for a reduction until Monday at the earliest. That means a whole weekend in jail for you. Over the weekend is bad for the same reason; there is no judge on the bench to argue for a bail reduction. Monday is generally not ideal because there could be a backlog of arrests to process from the weekend, and judges are often booked up with bail reduction hearings and are less likely to get to you if you need to argue for a reduction. Our recommendation (unless the police demand that you come at a particular time, or they will come and arrest you) is to turn yourself in very early in the morning on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. The process of being booked, appearing before a magistrate, and actually getting bailed out can take several hours.
What about a bail bondsman?
A frequent question from friends and family of someone turning themselves in is whether they should hire a lawyer before talking with a bail bondsman. Because it is so important for bail to be set as low as possible, getting a lawyer is the first and best use of limited resources. A bail bondsman generally charges 10-15% of the bail amount as a non-refundable fee. A qualified lawyer may be able to argue to the magistrate who sets your bail that it should be lower, or get a judge to review your bail in court more quickly than you could do on your own. At a minimum, a lawyer will be able to advise you about the range of bail you could be facing so you and your family can prepare financially. If you are able to afford it, having a quote and phone number for a bail bondsman ahead of time may help you get bailed out more quickly. Remember that the process of bailing you out can take several hours. You don’t want to leave it for 5PM. It can be a lot more difficult if not impossible to get it done outside of normal business hours.
Having to turn yourself in to police for a criminal charge can be scary, stressful, and embarrassing. A qualified lawyer can help you through the process, protect your rights, and maximize the chance that you get in and get out quickly.