Dear Friend and Comrade,
On behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, we are reaching out to all who were arrested this past weekend in Washington, DC during political protest actions throughout the city. We are volunteer attorneys and legal workers fighting to protect movement space in the struggle to eradicate capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, cisism, prisons, and all other forms of oppression.
We wish we could reply on an individual basis to many of the questions we have received, but we note that we cannot offer legal advice to anyone who is represented by counsel. However, to do what we can, we have compiled responses to the most frequent questions we have received. We hope you will find the explanations below helpful.
You can follow up with us as to your other questions, but again please note, that we cannot offer legal advice to anyone currently represented. If you do reach out to us, please do not share with us any specifics about your case. We can be reached via email at email@example.com, or by leaving a voicemail at 1 (866) 798-6444.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can the NLG represent me?
If you have a criminal charge pending against you, then you have already been appointed an attorney. Even if you decide later to secure the services of another attorney, right now you have been assigned someone who represents you.
As a legal organization, the NLG cannot speak with a represented person about their cases unless we have explicit permission from your attorney. This is for your own protection—to ensure you do not receive bad or conflicting legal advice from people who do not know your case. While we want to serve as a source of support and provide you with some general information—some of our members are actively representing people facing allegations related to events that took place during Trump’s inauguration—as an entity we do not represent people with pending charges and do not have attorney-client relationships with individuals. Therefore, we cannot give specific legal advice about anyone’s particular case.
We note that you do not have to keep your court-appointed attorney; people are always free to hire their own lawyers. If you are dissatisfied with your court-appointed attorney and cannot afford to hire private counsel, then you can complain about your attorney to the judge. This does not guarantee that you will be reassigned a new lawyer, as there is no right to choose the court-appointed attorney who represents you.
Again we emphasize, we cannot offer you legal advice and this document is not intended to offer you legal advice, but rather to provide some generalized information about the DC court system.
I don’t know who my attorney is. How do I find that information?
Information about pending cases is available online at:
You can look up each case at this link by defendant name or case number and see your case information, including the name of the appointed attorney, the charge, whether there is a “contribution order,” upcoming court dates in the case, and the outcome of hearings that have already been held in the case.
In order to obtain the actual documents, you must go in person to the Criminal Clerk’s Office on the 4th Floor of the DC Superior Court (500 Indiana Ave NW) and use the public terminals there. If you would like to print out documents you need to bring your own paper.
Now that I know who my attorney is, how do I contact them?
You can contact the Defender Services Office (DSO), which is a division of the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia (PDS) and they will tell you who your attorney is and how to contact them. DSO is who interviewed you when you were assigned. DSO’s number is (202) 824-2830.
Can I speak about what happened to me with anyone other than my attorney?
The only confidential conversations you can have about what happened before, during, and after your arrest, are with your attorney. There is no “Facebook friend privilege,” there is no parent-child privilege, indeed even spousal privilege is not absolute. This means if a defendant talks about the charges pending against them and any conduct they may have engaged in with anyone other than their attorney, that person could be subpoenaed to testify against them.
Note: this is another reason why people should not reach out to the NLG with questions about the specifics of their case. Once again, this letter is intended for informational purposes only, and is not considered legal advice.
The court told some people they need to pay a certain amount for the services provided by their assigned attorney. Do I need to make a payment of some sort?
It depends, and this is something you can ask your attorney about. You probably don’t have to pay this amount before your next court date, and you may not end up having to pay this amount at all, or you may have to pay a different amount. You can ask your lawyer about the “contribution order” and discuss whether your order should be reassessed, reduced, or vacated. By looking up your case at the follow link, you can determine if the court requires you to pay a contribution order:
I am scheduled to appear in court. What happens next in the process?
The court appearance every defendant had on Saturday, January 21, 2017 was the initial appearance in front of the court. It is called the “presentment,” and it is when defendants are preliminarily charged and their release conditions are set.
The next scheduled court date is called a “preliminary hearing.” At a preliminary hearing, the judge decides whether there is enough evidence for the case against a defendant to remain open while the prosecutor seeks a grand jury indictment. If the judge finds that there is not enough evidence, the preliminary charges will be dropped. However we note, dismissal at this stage does NOT prevent the prosecutor from pursuing an indictment. It only means there is no case in the meantime. Your lawyer may be able to get some information about whether the prosecutor intends to pursue an indictment against you.
If the judge finds that there is sufficient evidence against a defendant at the preliminary hearing, the preliminary charges will remain in place while the prosecutor seeks a grand jury indictment. Any conditions of release —for example, to appear at all future court dates and not to get rearrested in DC—will remain in place. Conditions of release can be modified at this hearing. The prosecutor could ask for additional conditions; your lawyer could ask for fewer conditions. Talk to your attorney about any concerns you have with your release conditions.
If the prosecutor is able to secure an indictment, the next step in the process is called an arraignment, where you are formally charged and enter your plea of not guilty. There may be other motions, hearings, and court appearances before trial, and your attorney can advise you on how your case will develop. Please speak with your lawyer about what will specifically happen at your preliminary hearing and what could happen afterwards.
The court set a date for a “preliminary hearing.” Do I need to appear physically for that court date?
A standard condition of release is that the person will appear at all future court dates. Willfully failing to appear at a court date you have notice of could be treated as a violation of a release condition. Violating your release can result in sanctions, up to and including revocation of release and pretrial detention at the DC Jail. Failing to appear at a court hearing can also be charged as a separate felony. If you are unable to appear for your hearing for some reason, notify your attorney immediately so they can attempt to reschedule the hearing or perhaps waive your presence at the hearing and proceed without you.
I was injured during or after my arrest. What should I do?
If you were injured by the police please let your attorney know immediately so that these injuries can be documented. You lawyer can advise you about your options, which may include filing a complaint with the Office of Police Complaints or filing a civil lawsuit at a later date. Please note, however, that any information conveyed to the Office of Police Complaints might also be conveyed by them to police investigators. Your attorney can help you decide if filing a complaint is appropriate in your case.
I was arrested, but I cannot get my personal belongings back from the police. What should I do?
If the police are continuing to hold your property, you can ask your attorney to file a motion for return of property. However, judges often give wide latitude to the prosecutors to decide what is “evidence” in the case. If the prosecutor convinces the judge that a certain piece of property is evidence, law enforcement is allowed to keep possession of the property until the case is closed. Depending on the nature of the property, the police/prosecutors may not give it back (like an illegal knife, for example) or attempt to seize the property under the civil forfeiture laws. In the event that you think this is unconscionable or unfair, we agree, but it is the law. Talk to your attorney about how to challenge the seizure of your property.
I was arrested and my cell phone was confiscated. Do I need to worry about my privacy on my phone going forward?
In this day and age, it is possible for law enforcement to compromise phones. So, if you can afford to replace your phone taken by the police and returned to you, that is the safest option. Password protecting your phone with at least six characters is also a good idea. If you choose to keep your phone regardless of the risk, change your password. If the police did not return your phone to you, you can still transfer your phone number to a new phone through your phone service provider. Talk to your attorney about what to do if the police confiscated your phone.
I was arrested on Friday. Do I need to worry about my privacy on social media?
As a general practice, everyone should keep their social media accounts as private as possible. Talk to your attorney as soon as possible about social media and do not delete any content without first discussing it with your attorney.
Should I write down what happened to me during and after my arrest?
Do not write anything down until you have talked to your attorney about doing so.
What other support will the NLG be providing for people who were arrested and their families?
The NLG is committed to the protection of the civil rights of all demonstrators, including those who were arrested. While the defendants have all been assigned attorneys, we can help provide general information about the legal process and hope to hold police accountable for their use of excessive force during and after the arrests.
NLG Legal Observers were on the streets throughout Inaugural weekend documenting police actions as they transpired; NLG attorneys were present in the courtroom throughout Saturday documenting who was released from police custody; and the NLG will continue meeting and organizing in the days and weeks that follow to provide information and resources for defendants and their families as they navigate the months ahead.
For questions that come up, either from defendants or from family members, please continue to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, you can also leave a voicemail for us at 1 (866) 798-6444.
One final note:
We are upset this happened to you, that you are facing these charges, and we know how scary the court system can be. You have our utmost respect for the strength you have certainly already shown in enduring this treatment. No one should be treated like this. We hope you have a support network you can rely on in this difficult time, and we encourage you to reach out. We will be here for you in any manner we can ethically be going forward, and will be watching your proceedings closely. There will be much to do in the years to come, and know that you are not alone.
DC-NLG Demonstration Support Committee