What happens during the booking process?

Most of the time, but not always, you will be taken to jail after your arrest.  You will want to go home.  You may have a bail agent with you ready to post your bond.  But first you must be processed into the jail, thus creating an official record of your arrest.  The task of administratively processing you into the jail is called “booking.”

Booking someone into jail normally involves the following steps:

  • Recording your correct personal information (name, address, etc.), and the crime for which you were arrested.
  • Taking a booking photo, or “mug shot.”  Mug shots are used for a number of purposes, including identifying two people who have the same name, photographic lineups, and establishing a suspect’s physical condition at the time of their arrest.  By the way, despite the best attempts of Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, and the like, there is no way to make yourself look good for the camera at the jail.
  • Inventory of your personal property.  Different jails have different policies as to what they will let you keep during your stay (watch, etc.), but most of your items will be inventoried and put in a bag until you are released.  You are entitled to all of it back when you leave, except for contraband or evidence.
  • Fingerprinting.  Enough said.
  • Full Search.  To ensure you don’t have a weapon, contraband, etc., before you are placed in jail.
  • Checking for Outstanding Warrants.  If you already have an outstanding warrant for you arrest for an unrelated matter (prior armed robbery charge, unpaid parking tickets, DUI in another state, etc.), you will not likely be released on bail until these are cleared up.
  • Preliminary Health Screening.  To protect the health and safety of jail staff and other inmates.

Am I entitled to a lawyer during the booking process?


The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a criminal defense lawyer at every “critical stage” of the prosecution.  Unfortunately the booking process is not regarded as a “critical stage,” but rather a routine administrative procedure, and so, even if you are trying to reach a lawyer, and a lawyer is trying to reach you, you are not “entitled” to have a lawyer with you during every one of the processes described above.  Law enforcement knows this, and sometimes attempts to exploit the process by illiciting information from you.  Resist the urge to talk, explain, or say anything that is not required during the process, and get in touch with your lawyer as soon as the process is complete.