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What Happens If I Get Arrested in Harris County?

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Getting arrested can be a frightening experience, particularly if it’s your first time and you have no idea what happens. The process varies from case-to-case and depends to a large degree on which local police agency makes the arrest. Here’s a step-by-step guide to what you can expect and how to deal with it.

The Actual Arrest


When you are arrested, you are usually handcuffed and taken to one of the local jails, depending on the municipality in which the arrest took place and the entity that arrested you. For example, if you’re arrested in Jersey Village you’ll be taken to the Jersey Village jail and transported to one of the Harris County jails later.

The jail at 701 San Jacinto is the main downtown jail. It has 9,300 beds and maintains a population of around 7,800 inmates, while some of the smaller jails can hold fewer than 20 prisoners. Most people arrested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department get taken to San Jacinto, but if you’re arrested by a different law enforcement precinct you’ll get taken first to the local jail.

Contrary to the scenes from TV shows that are imprinted in our minds, the police don’t necessarily read you your rights at the time of arrest. The Miranda warning is only required if they are planning to question you, which often doesn’t happen until after you have been processed. All the same, police can use anything you say while you’re in custody—including comments made during a telephone conversation that they overhear. The same applies to any statements you make while in the police car (even if the police are not in the vehicle with you, because you may be being recorded) and any conversations you have in jail about the charges or your case.

Being Processed

Once you’re taken to the local jail, you’ll be asked for personal information such as:

  • Your name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number

It’s best to give the police this information without resistance. However, you aren’t required to speak with them any further than that, and can request to get a lawyer before saying anything more.

During processing, your personal belongings will be taken away and listed, and you’ll receive a form or Voucher with a number on it, which you can use to reclaim your property on release. If for any reason you don’t receive your Voucher before you’re moved to a cell or another location, ask for the Voucher number and make a note of the officer’s name and shield number too. Any items in your possession that are considered evidence in your arrest will be recorded separately, as you won’t be getting those back.

If you are charged with a violation, for example disorderly conduct, it’s unlikely that the police will take your fingerprints. For a misdemeanor or felony charge, however, or if the police believe you are wanted for other crimes or can’t establish your identity, then your fingerprints will be recorded so they can check for outstanding warrants, traffic tickets and other issues. If a warrant is found from a different county than the one where you were arrested, you will have to wait until the paperwork is located and transferred to that county.

After fingerprinting, you’ll be asked if you have any medical issues. If so, you’ll be provided with a medical screening during which you can disclose to the doctor whether you’re required to take any chronic medication. This whole process generally takes several hours, during which you’ll be held in a cell. During this time you will have the chance to contact a lawyer, who will be able to help you through the rest of the process.

Getting a Lawyer

If you’re arrested for any reason, your first step needs to be the appointment of a criminal lawyer who specializes in the crime you’re accused of. There are telephones available for your use, but they work on the basis of collect calls and the receiving party must be prepared to accept the charges for you to get connected. The initial consultation with a lawyer is usually free, and many criminal lawyers can be reached by phone around the clock. If you don’t know who to call, your call may need to be to a family member or friend who can find a suitable lawyer and make arrangements for him or her to come and consult with you.

At Arraignment

Once you have been booked and processed, the police will call in the District Attorney to handle the charges. The court at the main Harris County jail operates 24/7, and a hearing officer is always in attendance. The DA will read the charges against you and the hearing officer can choose whether to throw them out or to set bail in a specific amount. You can also be released on personal recognizance (PR), which means the court believes you can be relied on to turn up for your trial. In Harris county, however, records show that fewer than one quarter of defendants are ever granted a PR release.

Posting Bail

The purpose of bail is to enable you to be released while still guaranteeing your appearance in court at the time of trial. The amount is based on the nature of your crime, and if it is too high for you or your family to pay, you can consult with a bail bond company for help. Both the police and your lawyer will be able to connect you with someone who can assist you with this process.

The judge will set the standard for your bond, and once you know how much is required you can post bail. If you’re unable to do so, you’ll be transferred to one of the main Harris county jails. After your release, it will be up to you and your lawyer to ensure that you take the necessary steps to avoid re-arrest, such as attending the trial and any other requirements the court imposes on you.

*Image courtesy of ann harkness

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