The Booking Process: What Happens When You're Taken to Jail

Thanks to the popular TV series Hawaii Five-0, most of us are familiar with the expression, “Book ‘em, Dano!” But most people are in the dark as to what happens during the booking process following an arrest.

Booking creates an official arrest record, and suspects who have been arrested and post bail immediately usually cannot be released from jail until the booking process is completed. The process itself usually takes are few hours, depending on how busy the jail is and how many officers are involved in the booking process.

Following are the typical steps in the booking process:

  1. Suspect’s name and the crime for which he or she was arrested are recorded.
  2. A photograph known as a “mug shot” is taken of the suspect. Mug shots are used not only to identify the suspect but also to record their physical appearance at the time of arrest. This may be relevant to the case if the suspect was involved in a fight or if allegations of police brutality are brought.
  3. Suspect’s clothing and possessions are taken into custody. These must be returned to the suspect upon release unless they are to be used as evidence of a crime or are considered contraband.
  4. Suspect is fingerprinted. These fingerprints are usually entered into a nationwide FBI database that is accessible to local, state and national law enforcement agencies.
  5. Suspect undergoes a full body search. Even if someone has been arrested for a minor crime, strip searches are legal in order to prevent weapons or contraband from entering a jail.
  6. Booking officer conducts a warrant search. This is to discover if a suspect has any outstanding warrants. If so, the suspect is usually not released from jail.
  7. A health screening may be performed that can include x-rays and blood tests to detect disease in order to protect the health and safety of other inmates and jail officials.
  8. Jail officials may interview suspects about any relationships — i.e., gang affiliations — that would determine whether the suspect needs to be isolated or placed in a certain section of the jail.
  9. A DNA sample may be required. This is entered into national DNA databases and accessible by local, state and national law enforcement agencies.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a full service criminal litigation and appellate law firm. We provide client-focused representation at all stages of the process, whether our clients are seeking to avoid charges, have been charged, or are seeking reversal of a conviction on appeal. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or