You may have heard about it from the police officer in charge of the case or from a mutual acquaintance and you are wondering: how can I be of help to a relative who is currently in police custody?

This article reviews what you can do to help and summarizes the basics of custody.

0. As a preamble, a few useful reminders about police custody

Please note that you will find here only essential reminders about custody.

What is the purpose of police custody?

Police custody is a measure of deprivation of liberty taken against a person suspected of having committed a crime, in order to be questioned about these facts.

It is crucial to remain calm and to keep in mind that the person is merely suspected of having committed an offence and is of course presumed innocent.

How long ?

A police custody lasts 24 hours, but can be extended for another 24 hours (48 hours in total).

Depending on the seriousness of the offences, the total duration of custody can be 72, 96 or 144 hours.

What rights does the person in police custody have?

As soon as the person is placed in police custody, he or she is informed of his or her rights, and in particular of :

  • the nature of the offence with which he is charged, as well as the time and place of its commission
  • the right to have a relative notified
  • the duration of the measure and the possibility of extensions
  • the right to consult a doctor;
  • the right to be assisted by a lawyer;
  • the right to be assisted by an interpreter.

1. Immediately: contact a lawyer if you know one

If the person in custody is used to working with a particular lawyer, contact him/her first: he knows the person, his personal background as well as his judicial past. In addition, he will certainly have a certain number of documents that could be useful later on.

If you do not know if the person in custody has a specific lawyer, you can appoint a lawyer of your own choosing.

In these two cases, it is very important to contact the lawyer as soon as possible and tell him or her:

  • the name and surname of the person placed in police custody;
  • the police station or gendarmerie where he is located
  • if you know it, the time of the placement in custody;
  • if you know it, the reason for the detention (what the person is accused of).

If you do not know a lawyer, a court-appointed lawyer will assist your relative in police custody if he or she so requests (and, in principle, only during police custody).

Finally, keep in mind that even if you have personally contacted a lawyer for a relative, it is the lawyer who will be the client so will not be able to inform you about the course of the police custody or the content of the case.

2. Quickly: collect the documents that will be useful to him

Why ?

At the end of the police custody, if the case is not dismissed or your relative is not cleared, he or she will be brought before a judge.

From then on, the lawyer will need so-called “personality” documents: this is the name given to the many documents that can help a judge understand a person’s situation.

These documents can be used to prevent incarceration. Indeed, in the event of an indictment or referral to court at a later date, a judge will have to decide whether the defendant remains free, if he is placed under judicial supervision or if he is placed in pre-trial detention. In this case, if the lawyer has the necessary documents (and that the case allows it, of course), he will be able to avoid pre-trial detention more easily (for example, by producing a certificate of accommodation in a province other than that of the facts or a work contract demonstrating the need to leave him outside of prison).

The exhibits may also be useful in obtaining a lighter sentence if your relative goes to trial immediately tried, whether it be in the context of an immediate appearance or a CRPC-deféré1. A work contract or pay slips can attest the defendant’s income, in order to prevent a prison sentence or to demonstrate the need to dispense with the entry of the conviction in bulletin n°2 of the criminal record.

Which documents ?

The following documents may be photocopied and sent to the lawyer.

Regarding the professional activity:

  • if your loved one works as an employee:

    • last 3 pay slips;
    • employment contract;
    • 3 last tax returns.
  • if your family member works as a contractor:

    • a SIRET/SIREN certificate;
    • 3 last tax returns.

If your relative has a diploma, a professional license (e.g., cab) or a permit, you can also send this document to the lawyer.

If the person in police custody is a minor, you can send a school certificate.

Regarding housing:

  • If your family member rents his or her own home: the last 3 internet, electricity or telephone bills indicating the address of the home and his or her name;
  • If he/she is being housed by a third party:
    • a certificate of accommodation from the person hosting him/her;
    • a photocopy of the host’s identity card;
    • 3 last internet, electricity or telephone bills from the host indicating the address of the accommodation and the name of the host.

As far as accommodation is concerned, it is preferable, if you can, to produce a certificate of accommodation with someone residing outside the region in which the acts were committed (which is most often the region in which the police station or gendarmerie where your relative is being heard is located).

For family members, if your relative is a parent:

  • photocopy of the family record book showing the identity of each parent and child;
  • if applicable, any judgment ruling on the custody of the children.

Other documents may be necessary. In this case, the lawyer will inform you.

  1. Which is a kind of guilty plea procedure immediately following police custody. ↩︎