Police Booking Procedure

It's important to note that individuals arrested for some minor offenses may be released after signing a citation. This is a document an arrestee signs, where they promise to appear for later court dates, including a preliminary hearing. The booking process creates an official arrest record. The first priority is usually getting out for those in jail after an arrest.

After an arrest, a criminal suspect is usually taken into police custody and "booked" or "processed" at the county jail. Below, you'll find a general overview of the booking procedure used by police.

During the booking process, a police officer typically takes account of the criminal suspect's personal items, including:

  • Gathering personal information, fingerprints, photographs, searches of the arrestee
  • Recording information about the alleged crime
  • Performing a criminal record search of the suspect's criminal background
  • Confiscating any personal property carried by the suspect (e.g., keys, purse)
  • Placing the suspect in a police station holding cell or local jail for arraignment

After an Arrest: What To Expect

The procedures collectively known as "booking" that follow a criminal arrest may vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Generally, it involves the following steps.

1. Recording Vital Information

Law enforcement will compile the suspect's name, contact information, the nature of the alleged crime and criminal charges (including the code section), and other vital statistics. Much of this information comes from the police citation or account of the incident.

2. Mug Shot

Next, the suspect stands (or sits) for a series of photos collectively referred to as the "mug shot." These photos often indicate the suspect's height and include the date and other information tying them to the incident.

3. Clothing and Personal Property Confiscated

After the mug shot, the suspect may be given a jail uniform and must relinquish their own clothing and personal belongings. The suspect will receive the items back when they're released unless it's contraband (such as a pocket knife) or anything considered evidence.

4. Fingerprinting

An officer will then take an impression of the suspect's fingerprints. The suspect will "roll" all ten fingers from side-to-side to record all the prints. If the crime in question has fingerprint evidence, they're compared to the suspect's to either find a match or eliminate the suspect. The suspect's fingerprints remain in a database indefinitely. The suspect may also have to submit saliva, hair, or other DNA samples.

5. Full-Body Search

Police conduct full-body searches even if the crime in question is relatively minor, such as a misdemeanor, and doesn't involve violence or drugs. This isn't a simple search but requires the removal of all clothing and can be quite invasive. The strip search aims to ensure no weapons or drugs come into the holding cell.

6. Check for Warrants

Police conduct a search through the database for any outstanding warrants the suspect may have for other criminal cases. Sometimes police are able to solve other crimes by chance if they pick someone up for an unrelated crime and find a match. Remember, your Miranda rights apply when you are in police custody and you're being questioned. However, anything you say voluntarily can and will be used against you, so you should remain silent and ask for a defense lawyer immediately.

7. Health Check

Personnel will conduct a general health screening to make sure the suspect is neither in need of immediate care nor a threat to the officers or other suspects in custody. This could include blood tests and even X-rays.

8. Incarceration

Finally, the suspect is placed in a holding cell or other secure facility to await trial or the posting of bail. Before placement, officers will ask suspects about gang affiliations or other factors that may present problems in a confined space. After completing the booking process, a suspect is typically allowed to make a phone call. You should contact a lawyer or family member who can retain a lawyer on your behalf.

Getting Out After the Booking Process

A suspect can usually obtain pre-trial release by posting a bail bond or "own recognizance" release, except when charged with serious crimes. The court may set a high bail amount for serious offenses to ensure a defendant will not skip future court appearances.

A bail bondsman may agree to cover the remaining amount if a defendant or their family cannot secure the full bail amount. As a disclaimer, the bail bond agent will require a fee covering at least 10 to 20 percent of the bail amount. If a defendant does not have cash, they can put up other valuables as collateral.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If the police are booking you or someone close to you, it's a good time to retain an attorney. Many lawyers offer free consultations. Even for common criminal offenses like driving under the influence (DUI), charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that even a first-time offense can cost $10,000 or more in fines and legal fees. A lawyer can help:

  • Negotiate the terms of your release
  • Challenge probable cause and unlawful arrests
  • Provide guidance on criminal procedures, including expungement

Get started and contact a local criminal defense attorney in your area today.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex criminal defense situations usually require a lawyer
  • Defense attorneys can help protect your rights
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


If you need an attorney, find one right now.