It’s probably not something you’re planning to do, but it could happen. Finding yourself in trouble with the law can be very traumatic, especially if you weren’t aware you’d done anything wrong. When you’re arrested by the police, you might struggle to think clearly. You might also be worried about the consequences of your arrest, the effect it’s going to have on your family and be scared about the social stigma attached to being arrested.

The reasons for being arrested vary considerably which makes it difficult to predict precisely what will happen. Rules and regulations across the United States and in other countries around the world also differ; however, it is possible to provide you with general guidelines about what you can expect if you’re arrested. Knowing what is likely to happen should put your mind at rest, help you to think clearly and ensure you don’t do something that will incriminate yourself.

The Arrest Procedure

If you’re arrested, it’s usual for you to be handcuffed and taken to the nearest police station. There you’ll be interviewed and asked to provide information such as your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. You’ll also be fingerprinted and then taken to Central Booking where you’ll be processed and appear before a judge which is known as an arraignment. As soon as you arrive at the station, any possessions you have on your person will be taken from you. You’ll be given a voucher form with a list of your property that you should check very carefully. This will be used to retrieve your possessions when you’re released.

Your Miranda Rights

Lovers of TV crime dramas will have heard these time and time again, but you don’t realize their importance until you’re having them read to you in person. Your Miranda Rights include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. You might not have these rights read to you if they’re not interested in taking your statement. Even if they haven’t been given to you always be aware that anything you say in the presence of a police officer could be used against you. When you’re in custody, they could use something they’ve overheard you say when making a telephone call or talking to another prisoner.

Being Booked

Booking is what happens when you’ve been taken to the police station. The personal information you provide is entered into the system along with information about the crime you’ve been arrested for. A photograph and your fingerprints will be taken. In some US states, you’ll be required to provide a DNA sample, especially if you’ve been arrested for a serious offense. The sample is generally a swab taken from your inner cheek, and it will go into a database. You may also find yourself being interviewed by an EMS paramedic. It’s a confidential interview, and you’ll be asked for details about your health and recent exposure to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Once the booking formalities have been completed, you’re usually allowed to use the phone. The best course of action at this stage is to get in touch with an attorney.

Bailing Out or Staying In

If the offense you’ve been arrested for is a minor one you’ll be given a written citation and then released, promising to appear in court at a later date. If this doesn’t happen, you have to go through the bail and bond procedure. Bail is a financial guarantee that you’ll appear in court. You pay a set amount of money to be released, and it’s returned when you show up to court. Bail proceedings vary from court to court, but generally, there will be a bail hearing to decide whether to grant bail and what amount is appropriate.

The rules and regulations that apply to bail and their procedures are currently changing. Many states are severely limiting the system of cash bail because it’s considered to be fundamentally unfair and disproportionately affects the poor. It’s being replaced with a system whereby risk assessment is used to determine whether someone should be in or out of custody as their case makes its way through the court system. If you want to know more, you can read about it here.

The Complaint and First Appearance

You could well find yourself being arrested without a warrant as this is very normal. In this type of case, the prosecution won’t get involved until after you’ve been arrested. They’ll review the report made by the police together with any other information and decide whether criminal charges will be brought against you. This part of the process is called the complaint. When it’s been filed, you’re no longer a suspect but a defendant. Your first appearance in court will be for your arraignment, usually a few days after your arrest if you’ve been released from custody. If you’re still in custody, your arraignment happens much sooner.

At your arraignment, you’ll be informed of the charges against you, notified you have the to right to counsel and your custody status will be decided. The magistrate might decide to leave your bail amount as it currently stands, increase or decrease it or release you without bail. This is known as being released under your own recognizance.

The Next Steps

What happens next really depends on the seriousness of the charges against you, the facts of the case and the rules in the jurisdiction where you’re appearing. The magistrate, however, does have to decide whether there’s probable cause to believe you committed the crime you’ve been charged with. If there’s no such determination, the case won’t go any further. If probable cause is determined you will then have to enter a plea. In many cases, the first plea entered will be not guilty.

Now you’re more aware of the process it should help put your mind at rest. The best course of action is of course not to get on the wrong side of the law at all. However, if it happens always talk to an attorney about your situation, including your options.

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