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The Booking and Bail Process

You've probably seen parts of a trial on television, maybe also the moment of someone's arrest, but less familiar is the process that takes place between the person getting handcuffed and the trial. In fact, it may appear from these depictions that the trial immediately follows the arrest; but that's not accurate, as it may not take place until a year or more later (if at all). What happens between the arrest and the trial? Who decides whether a suspect is released during the pendancy of their trial? Will they need to "post bail?" How much will it be? What's a bail bondsman ?

After a criminal suspect is arrested, the next steps in the case are the processing of the person into police custody ("booking"), and a determination of their eligibility for release from custody in exchange for the posting of a set amount of money ("bail"). While booking doesn't necessarily make for great entertainment, it's an important part of the process. Learn more about the booking and bail process below.

Bail Proceedings

A detained suspect can present evidence at their bail proceedings to determine whether bail is required, whether it will be denied altogether, or to set the amount that would be required. The bail hearing is the defendant's first appearance in court, where the judge decides whether to release the defendant without bail (O.R.); deny bail and detain the defendant until the trial; or set bail terms for release.

Booking and Bail Process: The Basics


The process of collecting information about the suspect who has been apprehended is referred to as "booking ." Typically this includes taking a photograph and fingerprints, as well as collecting the person's identifying information such as their name, address, and other details that permit the identification of the person. Booking procedures are relatively standard and vary little between suspects.

Those arrested for minor offenses (other than felonies or higher level misdemeanors ) typically are given a written citation in lieu of the booking process. By signing the citation, they agree to appear in court at the assigned time (court date will be set later).


Bail refers to money deposited with the court in order to help ensure that the suspect doesn't flee the jurisdiction and appears at future court cases. Bail and bond conditions can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, the charges at issue, and details about the suspect. Courts determine bail during the bail hearing, where they examine the weight of the evidence and other factors considered relevant.

The amount and terms of bail generally correspond to the seriousness of the charges (or suspected acts) and the likelihood that the defendant will appear in court as scheduled. The court also will consider the history of the individual, such as their criminal record, financial resources, and physical and mental condition. In some instances, particularly when a suspect is considered potentially dangerous, the court will deny bail altogether.

Release on One's "Own Recognizance"

In some cases, a suspect will be released after booking on their "own recognizance" (or "O.R."). In these instances, the suspect pays no bail but promises in writing (and subject to arrest for failure to comply) that they'll appear for all upcoming court proceedings. Again, the court will allow an O.R. release only in situations where the suspect isn't considered a risk to the community, along with other considerations listed in the previous section.

Also, O.R. releases often require additional conditions. For example, drunk driving suspects with multiple DUI offenses often are required to immediately surrender their vehicle and enroll in alcohol treatment classes in exchange for O.R. release. Some suspects may need to surrender their passport as a condition.

Questions About the Booking and Bail Process? Talk to an Attorney

The booking and bail process can be complicated and it can come and go faster than you think. It's critical that you understand your options in the process. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney near you who can walk you through this process and advocate on your behalf.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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