What to expect when arrested

This is a quick overview of the various steps you go through when you are arrested, to give you an idea of what to expect.


  • This is when police are not allowing you to leave a location, but you aren’t technically arrested
  • You can find out if you are being detained by asking ‘Am I free to go?’ or “Am I being detained?”
  • Cops are allowed to hold you until they feel that you’re not involved in whatever they’re investigating (or until they arrest you)
  • You don’t have to answer any of the police’s questions. Just say I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer
  • It may speed things up if you give them your ID, name, and address
  • If they want to search you (your bag, car, bike, house, tent, whatever) say loudly and clearly I do not consent to a search


  • Arrest is when the cops are charging you with a crime and taking you into custody
  • Cops can search you and your bags
  • You may be released with a citation, or you may be taken to a police station


  • Booking is when the police process you into the jail system
  • You’ll likely be fingerprinted and have your photo taken
  • Police will ask you for your name and address. Giving this information will get you released sooner
  • Do not answer any other questions. Just say I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer
  • Having a photo ID will make this process go faster
  • You may have to wait a long time to be booked


  • It may take a long time after being booked to be released
  • Jail can be very boring
  • Guards control your access to water, food, phones, etc.
  • You’ll most likely be sharing cells with other protesters, or folks picked up for minor crimes (petty theft, DUI, prostitution) – not murderers
  • You have a right to get your medicine in jail. If guards refuse to give you medicine you need, call the legal hotline


There are 4 ways to be released from an arrest:

  1. Citation

    • A promise to appear in court or pay a fine (like a traffic ticket)
    • Citations say ‘signing this is not an admission of guilt’
    • You may be cited and released at the scene, before booking, or after booking
    • Keep your citation
    • If you don’t make your court date or pay your fine, a warrant may be issued for your arrest
    • You’ll most likely be cited and released, unless you are charged with a felony or violent crime, or have warrants
  2. Own Recognizance

    • Often abbreviated as ‘O.R.’
    • This comes up after you’re initially not offered a citation (i.e. you have a felony or violent misdemeanor)
    • The O.R. Project, a local non-profit, will get you released if you 1) are not a threat to the public and 2) are likely to appear for your court date
    • It helps to have folks lined up who can vouch that you have strong ties to the community (friends, family, boss)
    • What you tell the O.R. Project can’t be used against you
  3. Bail

    • For more serious charges, or if the court decides you’re a flight risk, you may have to pay bail
    • Bail is like a deposit you pay to the court that you get back when you show up to your court date
    • If you’re not local, have few community ties, have a more serious charge, or a history of not appearing for court dates, you’ll get a higher bail
    • Bail must be paid in cash
    • You can also pay 10% of the bail amount to a bail bondsman – they front the rest, but you don’t get your 10% back
    • If you don’t show up to your court date, you lose your bail money forever
    • Even if you do show up, it may take a long time to get your money back
    • Bail is set automatically when you are booked, based on the charges
    • May be reduced by a judge later
  4. Arraignment

    • Needs to happen within 72 business hours of booking (weekends don’t count)
    • See below.


  • Your arraignment is your first court appearance
  • It’s usually three hearings rolled into one
    1. Formal Charges
      • This is when the District Attorney formally gives you your charges
      • The DA’s charges may be totally different – and are often much less serious – than what the cops arrested you for
      • You may show up to court and find out your charges are dropped
      • This is also where you enter a plea to the charges against you
      • If you must enter a plea, ‘not-guilty’ keeps the most options open for you
    2. Appointment of Counsel
      • We will try to find lawyers to defend arrestees on criminal charges. We can usually find lawyers willing to work for free
      • You can also go with a public defender, represent yourself, or hire your own attorney
    3. Bail
      • This is when the judge will reassess what your bail is, based on your official charges from the DA and specifics of the case
      • Judge also may decide to release you on O.R.