If you are arrested and taken to jail, your first concern is how to get out. Several things must happen before the authorities release you from jail. The process involves a booking process and a bail hearing to determine your release pending trial and setting the bail amount. You can post bail yourself or through a bail bond agent.
This article describes the arrest, booking, and bail process, which is the first step in a criminal case. It provides helpful information on how bail bonds work, who sets bail amounts, and how they can help secure a person's release from jail.
An Overview of the Arrest Process
An arrest occurs when someone's taken into police custody and can no longer leave or move about freely. A judge or magistrate may sign an arrest warrant upon showing probable cause in a criminal case. A warrant provides police legal authorization to place a suspect under arrest. Typically, police execute the warrant at the suspect's home.
When and how an arrest takes place is very important. People handcuffed and read their rights know they are under arrest. However, not everyone arrested is handcuffed or explicitly told they are under arrest. The court will exclude evidence if proper procedure is not followed or dismiss the case altogether.
Learn more about the arrest process, the basis for a legal arrest, challenges to unlawful arrests, the rights of those arrested, and other relevant issues.
The Booking Process at a Glance
After an arrest, a police officer will begin the booking process at the police station. Booking is an administrative process where law enforcement officers collect the suspect's personal information and organize evidence of the alleged crime.
The officer will record evidence, observations, and statements about the alleged crime. The officer will fingerprint and photograph the suspect. This process is more commonly known as taking a mug shot. Lastly, police officers conduct a criminal background check, collect the suspect's personal property for storage until release, and place the suspect in a holding cell.
Bail and Other Preliminary Hearings
Some states combine the bail hearing with an arraignment. During an arraignment, the judge reads the defendant's criminal charges and asks how the defendant would like to plead. The defendant enters either a guilty or not-guilty plea. Other jurisdictions allow a defendant to enter a plea of no contest. Next, a judge will determine whether to release a defendant before trial and set bail.
The purpose of bail is to ensure the following:
- An individual charged with a crime will willingly return for future court hearings
- A defendant released will not commit new crimes, intimidate victims or witnesses
- A defendant will not flee to another jurisdiction
Those accused of minor crimes, such as traffic violations, are cited and released. But all others arrested and charged with misdemeanor or felony crimes can argue for their release at a bail hearing.
Factors Considered During a Bail Hearing
At the bail hearing, a judge or magistrate examines the following factors to determine whether releasing the suspect would pose a threat to the safety of the community and their likelihood to appear at future court dates:
- The seriousness of the alleged crime
- The accused's criminal background
- The accused's financial resources
- The accused's length of residence and community connections
A judge will deny bail for defendants who pose a danger to the community or present a flight risk. The more severe the crime, the higher the amount of bail. Wealthy individuals may face higher bail amounts to ensure the bond is significant to the party paying. A judge sets bail after weighing these concerns.
Pre-Trial Release Conditions
If the alleged crime is not serious, the accused can show evidence that they pose no risk to the community and will make future court appearances. They're released "on their own recognizance" without having to post bail.
Other conditions placed upon release can include:
- Limits on travel in/out-of-state
- Periodic checks by an authority
- Court-ordered drug/alcohol testing
- Court-ordered drug/alcohol abstinence
- No contact with victims or witnesses
The various criminal procedures can overwhelm you and your family members. Posting bail, dealing with bondsmen, and penalties for violating conditions differ across states. If the court sets bail and you cannot immediately produce it, a bail bond agent may be necessary to secure your release.
A preliminary hearing is not held in every case where a "not guilty" plea is entered. Some states only conduct one if a felony is charged, not in misdemeanor cases. Other states use a "grand jury" process, and bail and arraignment are held at a later date.
Get Legal Help in Your Area
At this early stage, the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is helpful. An attorney can:
- Provide legal advice through a case evaluation
- Request a speedy trial date at arraignment
- Move to exclude evidence based on Miranda rights violations
- Negotiate a plea bargain by raising reasonable doubt
- Argue to eliminate or reduce criminal penalties
Many attorneys offer free consultations before creating a formal client relationship. Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer early in the case will help protect your constitutional rights. The court will assign a public defender if you cannot afford a private attorney. Find criminal defense attorneys in your area.