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What Happens When You're Booked Into Jail?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Unlike what "Law and Order" has taught you, when you get booked into jail after an arrest you don't flash forward to your first hearing seconds later.

It's also unlikely your lawyer is going to come crashing through the doors once you arrive at the jail, even if you are hiring your own defense attorney rather than relying on a public defender. Even if your attorney was there, it wouldn't make much difference at that point.

Those first few minutes in jail aren't the intimidating questioning process you've seen on television. Booking is something else entirely.

When a suspect is booked, police literally have to document the alleged crime and the suspect's name in a book. The "book" may now be a computer file, but the idea is the same.

Another word for booking is "processing," and during this time a police officer will note the details of what happened.

That includes getting the suspect's personal information including name, birth date, and any physical characteristics. To get that information, the officer may ask for identification which you are required to provide if asked.

The officer will also take fingerprints, a photograph (that's where the mug shot comes from) and search the suspect. Any personal items such as a purse, keys, or a cell phone will be confiscated.

Those items aren't gone forever; they'll be returned upon release. There's also usually a phone nearby to make that "one phone call."

Besides the information the suspect provides, this is the time when the police officer writes down the alleged crime and reasons for arrest. The suspect's name and fingerprints will be used to determine if the person has a criminal history.

It's not until police start asking you questions about what happened at the scene of arrest or put you in a lineup with other suspects that you need to have a lawyer present. At that point it's appropriate to say you want to speak to an attorney and refuse to participate in further questioning.

For minor offenses, booking may be your first and last stop in jail and you'll be on your way with just a citation. But if you aren't that lucky, it's time to get an attorney on your side.

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