Behind Bars: The Chronology of the Arrest Process


Have you ever wondered what happens when you are arrested? Most people that haven’t experienced the system do, but definitely aren’t willing to try the arrest process themselves. 

We understand that–why would an innocent person want to be arrested? 

Unfortunately innocent people are arrested every day and it can be scary and shocking as to what happens once this ball begins rolling. We’re going to explain the arrest process to you from beginning to end. 

Keep reading for more information! 

When Does the Arrest Begin?

Most people believe that they are under arrest when they are placed in handcuffs. However, there is a fine line between being detained and being arrested. 

Being detained means that you may not be free to leave at that moment, but soon enough you will be able to go on your way. Getting arrested means that you are no longer free to leave and your fundamental rights of freedom are on hold. 

Think of it like this: at a traffic stop, you can’t just pull away whenever you feel like it but you will be free to leave when the officer returns your license and insurance to you and possibly writes you a ticket. 

Should the officer smell alcohol or marijuana, he will likely ask you to step out of the vehicle and may place you in handcuffs. Using handcuffs physically restricts your movements and puts you under arrest. 

Once you are wearing handcuffs, there are two things that could happen: the officer determines there is no need to continue the arrest, removes the handcuffs, and allows you to leave OR he decides there is probable cause for your arrest and brings you to jail. 

Continuing the Arrest Process

The officer that has decided to bring you to jail can do so without reading you your rights. These rights are fundamental and are stated to every person that is arrested and questioned–they’re called the Miranda Warning

If you watch any crime television, you’ve likely heard these statements. They include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, the fact that anything you say can be used against you in court, etc. 

Although most people know these rights or have heard them multiple times, officers still must read them to you before questioning. This means that simply being placed in handcuffs does not necessarily warrant the reading of rights–so watch what you say!

Getting to Jail and Booking

When you were initially placed under arrest, the officer likely patted you down or ‘frisked’ you. This was to ensure that you had no weapons or substances on your person that you might use to harm yourself or others. 

Once you have arrived at the jail, the long process of booking and intake will begin. Although each jail performs in very similar steps, individual units may not replicate each step perfectly. 

Many times, you will sit in a waiting area to speak with a booking clerk. This clerk will ask you questions about employment, family history, health, prior abuse, substance abuse, previous arrests, aliases, and gang relations. 

Once you’re done with the battery of questions, you will return to a waiting area. This waiting area often has phones that are available to make calls to your family or a bail bonds company.

Eventually, you will hear your name called. Depending on the jail, you may take your mugshot first or ‘dress out.’ Dressing out is essentially exchanging the clothes on your back for the jail jumpsuit. 

Keep in mind that getting your jumpsuit is not as simple as a correction’s officer handing it to you and waiting outside of a changing room door. Your officer will watch you change, have you remove any jewelry or piercings, and then ask you to turn around, bend over, and cough. 

Although the ‘bend and cough’ is often seen in movies, many don’t realize that it is a real task that must be completed. It is to ensure that there isn’t any contraband located in places it shouldn’t be. 

Being Assigned Your Bunk

You have taken your mugshot, changed into a jail jumpsuit, and have been handed your essentials like shampoo/body wash and toothpaste. 

After this entire ordeal, you may feel hungry, tired, alone, and scared–all of these emotions are normal. You will have to wait until a bunk assignment comes through, and then you might be able to get a little rest.

At this point, you’ve gotten through most of the moving around and dealing with officers. Now you’ve just got to wait on a bed and to hear from your bail bondsman. 

The only thing you can do at this particular moment is to wait and try to be comfortable. 

Getting Out

With the exception of weekends and holidays, inmates are to be brought in front of a judge within 72 hours of their arrest. This court appearance will allow the judge to set or lower the bail amount as well as determine if there was probable cause. 

If there was no or insufficient probable cause for your arrest, you will be released. Much more often, the judge will set a realistic bail, taking into consideration if you or your family can afford it, your flight risk, and your criminal history. 

Should you be released that day or are now able to afford bail, be prepared for another long wait. It will take time for your bondsman to get the needed paperwork, or if you are being released on other terms, the officers at the jail almost always move slowly. 

After you are out of jail, you will likely have a long legal process ahead of you. If this is the case, your best bet is to hire a criminal defense attorney or speak with a public defender. 

Self-Care After Release

If you spend any amount of time in jail for a crime you did or did not commit, you will notice some changes in your personality. 

These changes may include anxiety, PTSD, or other, less significant differences. If this is the case, talk to someone. Take time for some self-care, maybe a day off of work, or give yourself permission for much-needed rest. 

The arrest process is stressful, jail can be scary, and you’ll be thankful when you’re through with both. If you’d like some ideas on self-care, take a minute to read this blog about meditation

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