I've never been arrested or been a party in any legal case (other than minor traffic violations) that warranted getting an attorney, so having never hired legal counsel, forgive me if this is an ignorant question.

If someone is arrested and doesn't "have an attorney", are they allowed to find their own before being questioned, or are they forced to use a public defender until later? If they are allowed to find their own, when during the process do the police allow a person to find their own counsel?

Also, how does one find an attorney from jail? Do the police just throw the yellow pages at them or are people supposed to have memorized the phone number of an attorney they've never hired? Or, is it normal for people to have a relationship with an attorney just in case they get arrested?

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    Another possibility is that you phone someone who isn't a criminal defense attorney, but would be able to find one for you (e.g. a friend, relative, associate, or an attorney who has worked for you on some other matter). Jul 9, 2017 at 5:48

1 Answer 1


In the US, the rule is that once you assert your 5th Amendment rights, interrogation is supposed to stop: this does not even require you to have been arrested. If you have been arrested, then once you've lawyered up, you can look for an attorney. "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you".

Phone rights depend on the state. In Nevada for instance, NRS 171.153 says

  1. Any person arrested has the right to make a reasonable number of completed telephone calls from the police station or other place at which the person is booked immediately after the person is booked and, except where physically impossible, no later than 3 hours after the arrest. Such telephone calls may be limited to local calls, except that long distance calls may be made by the arrested person at his or her own expense.

  2. A reasonable number of calls must include one completed call to a friend or bail agent and one completed call to an attorney.

Ohio law even makes a useful suggestion:

such person shall be permitted forthwith facilities to communicate with an attorney at law of his choice who is entitled to practice in the courts of this state, or to communicate with any other person of his choice for the purpose of obtaining counsel.

Cal.Pen 851.5 has a lot more to say about the call: within 3 hours, you get at least 3 completed calls, other stuff about custodial parents and additional calls; signs are required.

As far as I know, Washington does not have a statute guaranteeing a call, but you will be seen by a judge within 48 hours (probable cause hearing) so you will at least have access to a PD who can then communicate with the attorney of your choosing. (Policy may be that everybody does indeed get a call, there just isn't a specific statute). This article covers various case law findings that the right to a phone call is limited, and this gives a list (not necessarily complete) of state laws pertaining to the phone call.

There is no right to a phone book, and these days I suspect there isn't a phone book. Phone calls may cost money.

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