Criminals: One Phone Call?

Did TV lead us to believe that the accused is entitled to one phone call? How did this idea start? Is it because one has the right to be represented by an attorney?

When I was arrested and booked, I got a phone call. I think I could have gotten a couple, actually (parents, attorney). You can use it any way you like. During questioning, however, you can request legal counsel at any time, regardless of whether or not you’ve used your phone call.

When I got booked, I could call anyone I wanted collect. I could make as many calls as I wanted. I think you may be right about the call to a lawyer as most of the ads around the phone were for bondsmen and lawyers.

  • I just called my boss to tell him I’d be off, but not for long…

SSG Schwartz

I’ll bet that this varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and also changes within a jurisdiction over time. There won’t be one right answer, even in the U.S.

Exapno is correct, the answer WILL vary. That is because you have no right to a telephone call, it is an invention of Hollywood. One is normally, their conduct permitting, allowed one call and frequently more than one call. It the arrested is violent, that condition will not be overlooked for the sake of allowing a phone call.


I have found a bit of additional information at

Scroll down to the second or third question. I think much of the controversy is caused by the definition of “right” and how that conflicts with common usage. Some jurisdictions have made access to the telephone for new detainees a “right”. Access, when reasonable, is certainly indicated by proper procedure. There is, however, no federally dictated “right”.
Disclaimer: I have no attachment to, nor do I endorse Mr. Rubenstein or his firm

I was arrested for DUI 29 years ago and at the police station I was told I could make as many calls as I needed–although there was an interesting sort of time restriction on it. It wasn’t really formal, the cop just said, “You can call as many people as you want, but you need someone to sign you out of here. If you don’t have anyone on the way by the time we send people off to central holding, we’ll have to ship you off.” This particular police station didn’t even have an Mayberry-esque jail cell. It had a big bench that you got chained to (although I was only chained to it for five minutes and afterwards was not restrained in any way) and two closet-looking rooms for throwing violent people into. Everyone was either bonded out or sent off to central holding within a few hours of being brought in.

I had enough money on my person to pay my own bail, however the regulations were that I couldn’t be released on my own from the police station, someone had to sign me out. It was 3:45 AM and I made maybe 5-6 calls and no one was answering at that hour. My choices then were limited to paying a bail bondsman or go to central holding. I decided to not pay the bail bondsman and went to central holding, where I sat from around 6:00 AM Saturday until 10:30 AM Monday. I was allowed to then post my own bail and released without needing someone else to sign me out.

While in Central Holding I had pretty much unlimited phone calls (theoretically, they were actually limited by the fact that you would piss off the other people in holding if you hogged the pay phone) but I didn’t call anyone other than a lawyer.

[As a follow-up without going into too many details concerning the DUI, the charge was dismissed before I was even arraigned.]

In the UK you have the right to have someone informed of your arrest though I’ll bet the guys down at the station get pissed off with all the drunks screaming they’ll sue if the don’t get their phonecall.

Hollywood - The source of all human knowledge :smack:

Group W, huh?


Access to a phone is not for the arrestee’s benefit as much as it is for the jail. Most arrests are for DUI or other misdemeanor type things. With jails as overcrowded as they are, it’s important to get you processed, let you get a hold of someone who will post your bail, so you can get out and make room for the next alleged drunk.

Not really. Of course things are different between jurisdictions but generally jail is somewhere you get taken after you have already had the opportunity to post bail not some place where they dump drunks till they sober up. Big cities are probably the exception. Generally you are taken to the local police station where you stay until it is determined that you can’t make bail, then you are sent to jail. Round here if you are picked up on another town’s warrant they have to come and pick you up and take you to jail. We have this phone thingy on the wall that you can use to make collect calls. You have to hold your head up to the wall, nothing detaches and no cords of course. You can make as many calls as you want. For practical reasons we usually just give the guy his cell phone and give him the chance to make arrangements.
For liability reasons you can not be released on your own if you are under the influence or a juvenile. We give people every chance to get someone to come get them. Not because of overcrowding. Some days we have a lot of arrestees. Most days we don’t. It is because it is a pain in the ass to babysit a drunk or a juvenile. The drunks always need to go to the bathroom. The juveniles can’t be handcuffed (with exceptions) and have to have an officer with them every minute. Every prisoner has to be monitored constantly. Most local police departments are not set up for the long term housing of prisoners so monitoring them is much more labor intensive. Over crowding isn’t a factor.
Once they get to jail overcrowding may be a factor. I don’t know what the current population is at our county jail. When I transport someone to jail they usually get the chance to call someone right away. I don’t know their procedures for phone calls after that. The prisoner usually gets a bail hearing within a day or two and a judge determines if bail should continue or be reduced.
As for the long line of drunks waiting to get into jail, our jail will not take anyone injured or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

To add to what Loach said, around here you don’t go to jail even the holding area at the police station merely for being drunk. If you’re too drunk to take care of yourself, you go to detox. If you’re too drunk for detox, you go to the hospital.

I imagine that the jailing authority has no interest in limiting phone calls, except to ensure order, fair access to everyone who wants to use the phone, and as a way of encouraging good behavior (by taking away privileges when you’ve been naughty, something you’d already be at least somewhat accustomed to since you’re locked up, natch).

This is because most jails and prisons have lucrative contracts with telecom companies and they get a slice of the revenue generated from each phone call. So, the more you call, the more money they make.