Criminal Procedures Begin With Booking
Criminal procedure involves a set of rules through which a government enforces criminal laws. In the United States, the federal government, states, and municipalities each have respective criminal codes regarding what does and does not constitute a crime. The overall criminal procedure process includes booking, arraignment, bail, a preliminary hearing, a trial, sentencing, punishment, and appeal.
When someone is arrested and taken to jail, their primary thought is how they can get out. Several things must happen before the authorities release an individual from jail. The authorities must first book a person into the system, and then the person must go through a bail hearing to determine how much they must pay to go free.
What Is Booking
Booking records provide information about the people who are brought to jail. Because booking creates an official arrest record, arrested suspects who can post bail immediately often can’t be released until after the booking process is complete. Even suspects who receive citations in lieu of being taken to jail often must go through a booking process within a few days of their arrest.
Typical Steps in the Booking Process
- Step 1: Recording the suspect’s name and the crime for which the suspect was arrested. In olden days, this information became part of a handwritten police blotter; now virtually all booking records are computerized.
- Step 2: Taking a “mug shot”. Mug shots have a variety of possible uses. For instance, a mug shot can help to determine which of two people with the same name was arrested. A mug shot can also help to establish a suspect’s physical condition at the time of arrest. The suspect’s physical condition at arrest can be relevant to a claim of police use of unlawful force or to whether the suspect had been in an altercation before being arrested.
- Step 3: Taking the suspect’s clothing and personal property into police custody. At a suspect’s request, some booking officers allow suspects to keep small personal items like a wristwatch. Any articles taken from the suspect must be returned upon release from jail, unless they constitute contraband or evidence of a crime. Example: Sticky Fingers is arrested for stealing a calculator. The police seize the calculator at the scene of the arrest. During the booking process, the police find a packet of illegal drugs and a stolen camera in Fingers’s backpack. These items will not be returned to Fingers upon his release on bail. The calculator and the camera are evidence of the crime of shoplifting. The drugs are illegal contraband; the police can take them regardless of whether drug charges are filed against Fingers.
- Step 4: Taking fingerprints. Fingerprints are a standard part of a booking record, and are typically entered into a nationwide database maintained by the FBI and accessible to most local, state, and federal police agencies. Comparing fingerprints left at the scene of a crime to those already in the database helps police officers identify perpetrators of crimes.
- Step 5: Conducting a full body search. Police officers routinely make cursory pat-down inspections at the time of arrest. Far more intrusive (and to many people, deeply humiliating) is the strip search that is often part of the booking process. To prevent weapons and drugs from entering a jail, booking officers frequently require arrestees to remove all their clothing and submit to a full body search. Strip searches are legal even when the arrestee has been brought in for a relatively minor crime, such as an infraction; and even when there are no facts that would suggest that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband. In a 2012 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a search was legitimate even in the case of a person who was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested for failure to pay an outstanding fine (the fine had in fact been paid long ago). (Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945.)
- Step 6: Checking for warrants. The booking officer checks to see if an arrestee has any other charges pending, ranging from unpaid parking tickets to murder charges in other states. Suspects with warrants pending are normally not released on bail.
- Step 7: Health screening. To protect the health and safety of jail officials and other inmates, the booking process may include X-rays (to detect tuberculosis) and blood tests (to detect sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and AIDS).
- Step 8: Eliciting information relevant to incarceration conditions. To reduce the likelihood of violence and injuries, jail officials often ask arrestees about gang affiliations, former gang affiliations, and other outside relationships. Depending on the answers, an inmate may have to be placed in protective custody or housed in one section of a jail rather than another. Routine questioning along these lines does not constitute an “interrogation” that requires officers to give a Miranda warning to the suspect. Information that suspects disclose in response to a booking officer’s questions may be admissible in evidence under the “routine booking question exception” to Miranda (Pennsylvania v. Muniz, U.S. Sup. Ct. (1990)).
- Step 9: DNA sample. Suspects may be required to provide DNA samples that are entered in national DNA databases. Source
For criminal suspects who are placed in jail, the first priority is usually getting out. Except when very serious crimes are charged, a suspect usually can obtain pre-trial release through bail or “own recognizance” release.
In most cases, you are entitled to a reasonable bond set by the court. Generally, this requires that you post a bond with the court. A bond is a binding agreement to pay money to the court in the event that you do not appear for your scheduled court dates. A bond is intended to ensure your appearance in the case. Your bond may either be a cash bond in smaller cases, or a surety bond in larger cases.
To post a surety bond, you will need the assistance of a bondsman who will file a bond with the court on your behalf, guaranteeing your appearance at all scheduled court dates. The bond is a conditional release, therefore, if you are arrested for subsequent offenses while you are out on bond, your original bond may be revoked by the court without notice. If you cannot afford to post the bond that is set by the court, it may be necessary to request a bond reduction hearing with the court. Depending upon the severity of the allegations made against you, the court may also impose other conditions of your pre-trial release, which could include many other restrictive conditions, such as electronic monitoring.
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