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What Happens When Getting Booked Into Custody?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 10, 2024

Let's review what happens when someone is booked into custody after an arrest in California. The prospect of being arrested and taken into custody can be daunting for anyone, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process.

Because you are suddenly put in an environment where you have little or no control, the whole experience can feel like you have already been convicted of a crime, even if you haven't been charged yet.

What Happens When Getting Booked Into Custody?
Getting booked into custody after an arrest in California generally includes several steps.

The booking process in California is a structured procedure that ensures the police accurately record the arrest of an individual and maintain proper records. Understanding this process can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and anxiety associated with an arrest.

The booking process happens after your arrest but before your arraignment. It is when police officers record different information about you, such as your name, address, and the offense you were arrested for. Most county jails also ask about gang affiliations to determine where to place you in jail.

Police will also take your fingerprints and mugshot. To protect the jail population, you might be required to undergo a health screening process that includes an X-ray to check for tuberculosis, providing a DNA sample, and taking a blood test.

Police will likely conduct a full body search to ensure that all of your personal property is confiscated. They will often require you to strip off your clothes to submit to the search. The United States Supreme Court ruled this strip search does not violate your civil rights, even if you were only arrested for a minor crime.

Law enforcement will also check for any outstanding warrants against you. Once you are released from jail, your personal items will be returned unless they are used as evidence or illegal contraband.

After an arrest, the booking process can take an hour to several hours, depending on the police or sheriff's station booking procedures, how many people are being booked, and how many officers there are to handle the bookings.

After the booking process, you can be released on your own recognizance or after posting bail. Otherwise, you would stay in jail until the arraignment.

Your arrest is recorded during the booking process. If you do not take the necessary steps to get it expunged, the official arrest record will likely show up on criminal background checks.

What Happens During the Booking Process?

Being booked into custody involves a series of steps. The exact order of some of the steps may differ among facilities, but here's an overview of what to expect.

Transportation to a Detention Facility

Once an arrest is made, the individual is usually transported to a local detention facility or police station. This marks the beginning of the formal booking process.

Identification and Documentation

Upon arrival at the detention facility, the suspect goes through several steps:

  • Personal Information: The suspect's details, such as name, address, date of birth, and physical characteristics, are recorded.
  • Photographs and Fingerprints: Officers take photographs (mugshots) and the suspect's fingerprints. These records are entered into state and national databases for identification purposes.
  • Search and Inventory: Arrested individuals are searched (often strip-searched), and their personal belongings are inventoried. Items such as wallets, keys, and cell phones are taken and stored securely until the individual is released. The suspect may also have to surrender clothing and wear a standard-issue uniform while in custody, especially for longer stays. Any contraband or illegal items found during the search may incur additional charges.

Health Screening

Detention facilities usually conduct a health screening to assess the suspect's medical condition, identify immediate medical needs, and screen for infectious diseases. This step ensures the detainee's and others' safety and well-being in custody.

What Happens During the Booking Process?

Criminal Background Check

Law enforcement performs a background check on the suspect to see if there are any outstanding warrants or previous criminal records. This background information can influence decisions regarding bail, detention, and further legal proceedings.

Placement in a Holding Cell

After the health screening, the individual is placed in a holding cell. Depending on the severity of the alleged crime and the facility's capacity, they may be held alone or with other detainees.

Creating the Official Record

Finally, all the information gathered during the booking process is compiled into an official record. This record becomes part of the individual's criminal history and is used throughout the legal process.

What Should You Expect While in Custody?

Your time in custody can be a stressful experience, but knowing what to expect, what to do, and what not to do can help alleviate some of the stress. You can expect any/all of the following:

  • Limited Outside Communication: Access to communication is restricted. You may be allowed one phone call to inform a family member or attorney about your situation.
  • Meeting of Basic Needs: Facilities must provide necessities, including food, water, and medical care. However, conditions can vary significantly between facilities.
  • Informal or Formal Interrogation: You may be officially brought into an interrogation room for questioning, or officers may ask questions in a "casual" manner during the booking process. Remember, anything you say while in custody, even informally, can be used against you. Some people tend to talk when they are nervous; don't fall into that snare. Keep your communication brief and to the point, and don't answer any probing questions without your attorney present.
  • Possible Release: Depending on the charges, you may be eligible for bail or release on your own recognizance. This will be determined during the arraignment or a separate bail hearing. Also, the police cannot hold you for longer than 48 hours (or 72 hours in some cases) unless charges are filed.

What Happens After Getting Booked?

After you are booked, the next step in the process is pre-trial release. Our criminal justice system is designed to ensure you attend the required court appearances for your case. It often involves posting bail.

What Happens After Getting Booked?

Your pre-trial release will typically depend on the type and severity of the offense for which you were arrested. Most non-violent crimes do not require posting bail, and you will be released on your own recognizance (OR).

Under an OR release, you would sign a written promise to appear in the future rather than posting bail. All California counties have a bail schedule that sets the amount for certain crimes.

You will be released if you post the applicable amount with the court after booking. If you make all of your required court dates, the money will be returned to you.

If neither option is available, you will be detained in a holding cell until your arraignment or the bail hearing. At the arraignment, you will enter your plea to the criminal charges, and the judge will hold the bail hearing to decide whether to impose bail and how much.

The outcome of a bail hearing will generally depend on the severity of the crime, your prior criminal record, whether you are a flight risk, your financial means, and whether you are a threat to public safety or others involved in the case. The judge could decide to hold you without bail. Getting a bail bondsman is typically the best option if the court sets a bail amount.

How Can a Lawyer Help You During Booking and Beyond?

Suppose you are arrested and booked into custody. In that case, the best way to protect your rights is to call an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, even before charges are filed. A skilled attorney can help in the following ways during the booking process:

  • Legal Counsel and Guidance: An attorney provides expert legal advice, explaining the charges against you and the potential consequences. They can guide you through each step of the legal process, ensuring you understand your rights and options. They can also be present during questioning to protect you from incriminating yourself or from aggressive police behavior.
  • Representation in Court: Your attorney will advocate during arraignments, hearings, and trials. They will work to build a strong defense, challenge evidence, and negotiate with prosecutors to achieve the best possible outcome.
  • Bail and Release Assistance: The attorney can help secure your release from custody. They can argue for reduced bail or even release on your own recognizance, allowing you to return home while awaiting trial.

Contact our California criminal defense law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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