BY THE DEAD CITY LEGAL POSSE (The Legal Working Group)

Although this legal guide was written by a lawyer, it is not legal advice. It is intended to simply help you understand the legal process in D.C. (both federal and local). This guide is specific to J20 and the procedures in D.C. Things may work differently in other places, but this guide is accurate for D.C. as of 2017.

Whenever the cops ask you anything once you are in custody besides your name and address, it’s safest to say the Magic Words: “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.” The cops are then legally required to stop questioning you. They probably won’t, so just keep repeating it. Don’t wait for the cops to read you your rights. They usually won’t, or will do so much later than you have seen on television, where it occurs the second you are placed into custody. Law enforcement agents are legally allowed to lie, and they’re trained to be manipulative. The only thing you should say to them is, “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.”

In D.C., you may be presented with what is called a “Miranda card.” It has a list of your rights and then a few checkboxes for you to answer yes or no. If you do not want to talk to the police, answer the questions as follows: “Yes” you received the card and read it;”No” you don’t want to talk to the police without a lawyer present.

You should also know that if you are arrested and refuse to provide your name to the police and the court, you do not have any ID on you, and there is no fingerprint on file for you, there is a good chance you will not be released because the police will not be able to check whether there are warrants out for you.

(Not) talking to cops

Anything you say to the police can and will be used against you and your friends. Most protesters already know this, and yet they get themselves in trouble anyway by talking to the cops. Here are some reasons that people who don’t intend to talk to the police end up doing so anyway:

  • The arresting officer is a jerk, but a friendly officer who is the same race, gender, and/or age as you seems to want to help
  • The police offer to “put in a good word with the prosecutor” if you cooperate, and threaten to charge you with a felony if you don’t talk
  • It doesn’t seem like there is any harm that could come from small talk, such as discussing your favorite sports team
  • The police say they agree with what you’re doing (e.g., they hate Trump too)
  • Being silent when someone is trying to talk to you feels really awkward
  • Once you start talking, it’s hard to stop
  • You think it’s necessary to tell the police details about how you go to D.C. or who you’re staying with in order to get released


The police do not decide your charges; they can only make recommendations. The prosecutor is the only person who can actually charge you. Remember this the next time the cops start rattling off all the charges they’re supposedly “going to give you.”

What to expect with post and forfeit

If you are given the option to “post and forfeit,” it means that if you pay a certain amount of money (usually $50 or $100), the case against you will be dropped. If you “post and forfeit,” you are not admitting guilt and not being convicted of a crime, but you will still have an arrest on your record. If you have cash with you when you are arrested, you may be able to post and forfeit at the station so that you do not have to come back and pay at a later time. If you do not have cash with you, you will generally be allowed a short time (around two weeks) to post and forfeit, but you may have to go back in person to pay. By posting and forfeiting, you are giving up your right to a criminal trial, but you do not give up your right to sue the police if they wrongfully arrested you.

What to expect with court

If you get arrested, you should understand that you may be required to appear in court multiple times, even if you live out of town.

Arraignment is the initial court hearing in a misdemeanor case and it’s where you are formally charged with a crime, enter a plea, may get assigned a lawyer (depending on what you’re charged with), may have release conditions set (such as staying away from a certain area), and will have a date set for your next hearing.  The arraignment process is short and simple, but due to the large number of arrests that happen every day, it may be several hours after the judge takes the bench before you are called up.   Adult arraignments happen every day except Sunday and holidays.  You will normally be arraigned the day after your arrest, but if you are arrested Saturday night and Monday is a holiday, you will have to wait until Tuesday.  Arraignment takes place at the following place and time: Superior Court, 500 Indiana Ave., NW, Washington, DC, Courtroom C-10 (U.S. Misdemeanor cases) or Courtroom 115 (D.C. Misdemeanor / Traffic). If you are unsure where or when an arraignment is taking place, you can call the Superior Court at (202) 879-1010.

Felonies are complicated and will not be addressed in this guide, but you can ask a lawyer if you want more information about that process.

Where do I go when I get arrested? Where did they take my friend?

If you are injured, the cops will take you to the hospital first where you will be treated and then processed further by the police after treatment.  Otherwise, you will generally go to the nearest precinct (if arrested by MPD or Secret Service), Park Police Headquarters (if arrested by Park Police), or Capitol Police jail (if arrested on Capitol or Supreme Court grounds), although if there are a large number of arrests, people might be taken to different places.  After being booked at the precinct, one of several things will happen: you will be released on citation; you will be able to “post and forfeit”; or you will be taken to Central Cell Block to await arraignment.  (Sometimes booking takes place at Central Cell Block instead.)  If you are held over for arraignment, you will be transferred to a holding area called the U.S. Marshals Cell Block in the morning before you see the judge.  Adult arraignment happens every day except Sunday and holidays.  Here are some key phone numbers and addresses:


Location Address Phone
1st District (1D) MPD 101 M St., SW (202) 698-0555
1st District Substation MPD 500 E St., SE (202) 698-0068
2nd District (2D) MPD 3320 Idaho Ave., NW (202) 715-7300
3rd District (3D) MPD 1620 V St., NW (202) 673-6815
3rd District Substation (3D-1) MPD 750 Park Rd., NW (202) 576-8222
4th District (4D) MPD 6001 Georgia Ave., NW (202) 715-7400
5th District (5D)MPD 1805 Bladensburg Rd., NE (202) 698-0150
6th District (6D)MPD 100 42nd St., NE (202) 698-0880
6th District Substation MPD 2701 Pennsylvania Ave., SE (202) 698-2088
6th District Satellite Station MPD 2839 Alabama Ave., SE (202) 583-1891
7th District (7D) MPD 2455 Alabama Ave., SE (202) 698-1500
US Park Police D-1 (Hains Point) 960 Ohio Dr., SW (202) 426-6710
US Park Police D-5 / Headquarters 1901 Anacostia Dr., SE (202) 610-8703
US Capitol Police 119 D St, NE (202) 224-5151
Central Cell Block 300 Indiana Ave., NW (202) 727-4222
Blue Plains 4665 Blue Plains Drive, SW (202) 645-0445
D.C. Superior Court 500 Indiana Ave., NW (202) 879-1010
U.S. District Court for D.C. 333 Constitution Ave., NW (202) 354-3050

Bullshit that cops will say

Cops lie a lot. Below are some of the things that they often tell protesters. Of course, when they’re in court, cops will lie and say they never told you what they actually told you.

“You can’t record my voice / take photos / videotape me without my permission.”

There is no D.C. law that prohibits taking photos or video of cops. Sometimes the police will invoke the wiretap law and say you can’t record their voice, but in D.C. even private telephone conversations can be recorded as long as one party consents. Public conversations can always be recorded.

“I don’t have to give you my name / badge number.”

MPD officers must give you their name or badge number if you ask and must have their badges visible at all times (even when wearing riot gear). Of course, they don’t have to give you their badge number immediately if they’re in the middle of arresting someone. Also, the identification requirement only applies to MPD, not the feds.

“You have to show me your ID.”

In general, you don’t have to carry or show ID (unless you’re driving) and you don’t have to talk to talk to the cops, even if they ask you a direct question. However, you are required to give your name and address if the cop is writing you a ticket, but you still don’t have to show your ID unless the cop knows or reasonably thinks you are giving a fake name or address, in which case you can be arrested and charged with “Failure to Make Proper Identity Known,” a misdemeanor, if you continue to refuse. The penalty is a fine between $100 and $250.

“It’s illegal to wear a mask.”

D.C. has a mask law, but it only applies in three situations (1) if you’re using force or threats of force to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person’s exercise of their rights; (2) if you’re intimidating, threatening, or harassing someone; or (3) if you’re doing something else that’s illegal and are wearing the mask to avoid identification.  It is also illegal to wear a mask while protesting a residence.

“If you don’t cooperate you’ll be held in jail extra days, won’t be able to get a citation release or be held over the weekend or you will go to jail where there are a lot of scary people who don’t like people like you and we cant protect you.”

When you get to the police station, the cops will REALLY start lying.  They will want you to sign away your rights and try to get you to talk without a lawyer present.  They may tell you that they can reduce your charges or let you go earlier if you cooperate with them.  The truth is that it’s up to the prosecutor, not the cop, to decide what the charges will be, and you won’t be delayed in going before a judge just because you assert your right to remain silent.


Any time the police try to search you, say: “I do not consent to this search.” This may not stop them, but it could get evidence thrown out in court later. This is important, because you might have something on you that is technically illegal (like a pocketknife that’s too long), or the police might plant evidence on you. However, don’t physically resist when cops try to search you, because you could get hurt and charged with assault.

Any time the cops try to search anything connected to you, say: “I do not consent to this search.” Keep saying it, loudly enough for witnesses to hear. This is true for your body, your car, your house, your tent, your personal belongings like a backpack, your garage – anything. It’s also true if the cops have a search warrant. There might be a technical problem with the warrant that only comes up later.

Special Populations

If you are a noncitizen, a juvenile, or are on probation, parole, pretrial release, or have an outstanding warrant, it is highly recommended that you speak to a lawyer before you engage in any civil disobedience because there may be serious consequences that result from getting arrested. If you are planning to engage in civil disobedience and have special needs related to your diet or a serious medical condition, or if you are a transgender or gender non-conforming person, are deaf, have limited knowledge of the English language, or have other special needs, it is highly recommended that you talk to a legal worker about your situation in advance so that there will be an advocate for you as you go through the system.


Interrogation, or questioning while in custody, isn’t always bright lights and rubber hoses — usually it’s just a conversation.

Remember, anything you say to the authorities can and will be used against you and your friends in court. There’s no way to predict what information the police might try to use or how they’d use it. Plus, the police often misquote or lie altogether about what was said. So say only the Magic Words and let all the cops and witnesses know that this is your policy. Make sure that when you’re arrested with other people, the rest of the group knows the Magic Words and promises to use them.

One of the jobs of cops is to get information out of people, and they usually don’t have any scruples about how they do it. Cops are legally allowed to lie when they’re investigating, and they are trained to be manipulative. The only thing you should say to cops, other than identifying yourself, is the Magic Words:

“I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.”

How well do you know your rights?