What Happens when You are Arrested

In addition to knowing what your rights are when you are arrested (see Rights You Need to Know if You are Arrested), it is important to know the typical procedure for an arrest. An arrest takes place when the police hold you in custody and your freedom to leave is restricted. While the precise order in which your arrest is processed may vary from state to state, the following article outlines the basic procedures you will face when you are arrested.

When you are arrested, you will be taken to a police station and told why you are being held. At this point in your arrest, you will only be generally advised of the charges against you; your charges will be formally explained at an arraignment where you will also learn of the potential consequences for being guilty of the charges that you face. The police will also want to question you. It is important to be aware that you must be read your Miranda Rights (see Miranda Rights: A Brief History) before you are questioned. It is usually a good idea not to speak to police officers until you have a lawyer present.


Being booked for jail may include having your picture taken, revealing your name and address and being fingerprinted. Be aware that police have the right to book you before you are able to contact friends, family or an attorney. Shortly after you are booked, it is your legal right to have loved ones informed of your arrest and to contact a criminal defense attorney.

As you are booked by the police department, any personal property on you during your arrest (i.e., clothing, money, jewelry, etc.) will be taken from you for safekeeping. Your belongings should be carefully inventoried and you should receive a copy of the inventory. Be sure to read the inventory and check it for accuracy before you sign it. Your personal property will be returned to you upon your release from jail if it was not illegal or seized at evidence.

You will be required to remain in jail until your trial date or until you are able to post bail. Bail is the amount of money you must pay to be released from jail until your trial. When you post bail, you are making an agreement that you will appear in court for your trial. Failure to appear for your scheduled court date will result in a forfeiture of bail reimbursement (see How to Post Bail).

An arraignment is a court session where you are formally charged with a crime and must plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges that you face. A not guilty plea will result in a trial where you may confront and cross-examine your accusers and allow a jury to hear your case. A guilty or no contest plea will result in a sentencing for the crime you admitted to. If you choose to plead guilty or no contest you are willingly and knowingly giving up your right to a trial by jury, your right to not incriminate yourself and your right to challenge the charges you face (see What