Arrests occur in many different situations, so it is difficult to predict the exact circumstances that someone who is arrested will encounter. Our guide provides general information about arrest processing in New York City, and what to expect in most cases if you are arrested.
If you are arrested, you will be handcuffed, and except in unusual circumstances, you will first be taken to the precinct in which the arrest occurred for initial processing. At the precinct, a police officer will interview you and ask for “pedigree” information, including your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, etc. Once you have been fingerprinted you will be taken to Central Booking and processed for arraignment, which is an appearance before a judge.
If you know in advance that you might be arrested (for example, you are planning to engage in civil disobedience during a demonstration, or voluntarily appear at a precinct at the request of the police), or are arrested at your home, you can prepare for arrest. Leave most personal property at home, but do take two forms of identification with you. Picture identification cards, such as a current driver’s license or student identification card, are best. You should also bring a supply of quarters for telephone calls.
At the precinct, a police officer will search you and take personal property, such as house keys, backpacks, purses, medication, large sums of money, or valuable jewelry, as well as any unlawful items you happen to have in your possession (contraband). Items other than contraband are held for safekeeping while you are in custody. You will be given a “Voucher” form listing your property, so that you can retrieve it later. However, if an officer is processing a large number of arrests at one time, your Voucher form is not ready before you are taken to a cell or another location. If this happens, ask the officer for the “Voucher number” that will be used for your property, and also write down the officer’s name and shield number. Having this information will make it easier for you to retrieve your property once you are released.
If you have any item that the police officer believed to be contraband, that item will be listed on a separate voucher as “arrest evidence,” and will not be available for you to pick up later. It is also probable that you will be charged with a crime, relating to possession of the contraband.
An order of protection is issued by the court to limit the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm another person. If one was issued, make absolutely no contact with the person named in the order.
If you are a juvenile or a person 16 or commencing 10/1/19, 17 years of age and are arrested, the police officer shall immediately notify the parent or other person legally responsible. You have a right to remain silent and to have your attorney present.
If you are charged with a crime (a misdemeanor or felony, as defined by the Penal Law, Vehicle and Traffic Law or New York City Administrative Code), you will be fingerprinted and photographed. If you are charged only with offenses classified as violations (such as disorderly conduct under the Penal Law) you will probably not be fingerprinted. However, if the police are unable to establish your identity, suspect that you are giving false information about your identity, or believe that you are a wanted person, they may take your fingerprints even if you are only charged with a violation.
The police will check to see if you are wanted for an arrest or court warrant, summons or unpaid traffic ticket. If there is a warrant, you may have to spend additional time in jail before arraignment while the court locates the paperwork. If the warrant is from a county other than the one in which you are arrested, you may have to remain in jail after the arraignment and be transferred to that county.
It is possible, but highly unlikely, that you will be released on a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT), which will require you to appear at the courthouse on a later date for arraignment on the charges. The issuance of a DAT is entirely up to the discretion of the police. If you are lucky enough to receive a DAT, the release will occur while you are at the precinct.
The precinct processing typically takes four to six hours. During this time, you will be held in a cell. You will be permitted to make up to three free calls within New York City, or three collect calls to out-of-town numbers. There may be pay telephones in the cell for your use. If you are not being released on a DAT, you will next be taken to Central Booking, which is located at the courthouse where you will be arraigned
When you are moved to Central Booking, you will see an EMS paramedic, who will ask you routine questions about your health and recent exposure to communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB). This interview is confidential, and is done to protect people who are awaiting arraignment. The EMS paramedic is trying to determine if you have a medical condition that should be monitored while you are there, or whether you have a contagious condition that might spread to other people.
After you see a paramedic, you will begin a long wait for arraignment. While you are waiting, the paperwork required for your arraignment will be completed and assembled, and your case will be “docketed” for court. You will probably be moved several times while you await arraignment, and can expect to spend 8 to 12 hours in the courthouse before you see your lawyer, and then the judge. You will be offered food during this waiting period: cereal and milk for breakfast, and sandwiches and a fruit punch for lunch and dinner. Sandwiches are made with cheese or processed Halal lunch meat. You have a right to request a cheese sandwich if you do not eat meat. You also have a right to request drinking water, soap and toilet paper if these items necessities are not provided. Sanitary pads are available for female prisoners, and most cells have pay telephones.
During the waiting period, you may also be interviewed by someone from the Criminal Justice Agency, an independent agency that evaluates arrested persons’ work histories and family ties, in order to recommend to the court whether they can be trusted to return to court without bail, or whether bail should be set. In order to improve your chances for release, you should give the interviewer your current work and residence information, and the name and telephone number of a person who can verify your information.
Thanks to successful litigation by The Legal Aid Society, people arrested in New York must be arraigned within 24 hours unless the police can provide a reasonable explanation for the delay. And because of our continuing and persistent vigilance, you can anticipate being arraigned within 18 to 24 hours.
Some people need to take prescription medications for serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, HIV, epilepsy or hypertension. If you are on a regular medication schedule, you may need to take your medication at certain times of the day. Other people, such as those with conditions such as asthma or angina, need to take medication at the onset of symptoms.
No matter the nature or severity of your condition, you will not be allowed to keep your medication on you after you are arrested. However, if you anticipate that you will be arrested and want to take your medication while you are in custody, it is still a good idea to bring a one or two-day supply of your medication in its pharmacy-issued prescription bottle. The police officer who processes your arrest is supposed to fill out a Medical Treatment of Prisoner form recording the information on your prescription bottle, including the name of the medication and dosing information, and the name and telephone number for the pharmacy and your doctor. This form will accompany you through the arrest processing and will be provided to the EMS paramedic and any other health care workers you encounter while in custody, although the medication itself will be held at the precinct where you are processed, along with any other property that has been vouchered.
If you do not have your prescription medication with you but want the information about it to be available to the health care workers who will see you, you can ask a member of your household to bring it to the station. The police will not accept the medication from the household member, but are required to record the information on the prescription bottle on your Medical Treatment of Prisoner Form, along with contact information for the household member who came to the precinct.
It is up to you to tell the police, the corrections officers or the EMS paramedics at Central Booking that you need medication. For people with asthma or other conditions that cause trouble breathing, the paramedics have oxygen supplies and over-the-counter inhalers available.
While you are in Central Booking, you should as to be taken to the EMS station if you feel sick.The paramedic will evaluate your condition, and if it appears that you need medication or treatment, police regulations require that you be taken to a hospital emergency room, where a doctor will provide treatment and administer required medication.
It has been our experience that some police officers try to discourage people who need medication from asking for it, by telling them that a trip to the hospital for medication will delay their release from jail by several days. THIS IS NOT TRUE. On average, people who go to the hospital for medication get out of jail just as quickly as people who do not.
Once you get to the hospital, explain to the doctor your exact medication needs. If information about your prescription was recorded on a Medical Treatment of Prisoner form, call that to the doctor’s attention. If the doctor agrees that the medication is medically necessary, the hospital will issue enough medication to get you through the arraignment process. This medication will be held for you at the Emergency Medical Services station at Central Booking. You will go there each time you need to take your medication.
Once all of the paperwork has been completed your case will be docketed (i.e., assigned to an arraignment courtroom) and you will be brought to a holding cell attached to the courtroom in which your arraignment will occur. If you have pre-arranged to be represented by your own lawyer, that attorney will notify the clerks and/or court officers in the part by submitting a “Notice of Appearance.” If you do not have your own lawyer the court will assign an attorney to represent you. In either case the attorney will be given a copy of your papers and will speak with you before you see the judge. Attorney-client interviews are usually held in interview booths attached to the holding cell outside the courtroom (the attorney will call your name out shortly before your case is to be called in court). The attorney will tell you what crimes or violations you are being charged with, what, if any plea offer has been made by the District Attorney or judge, and will discuss with you what happened and what you wish to do. To prepare the application for your release without bail, the lawyer may ask you to provide more information concerning your “community ties.” The attorney may need to contact a friend or family member in order to verify the information, and may also want to have them appear for you at the arraignment, if possible. Once the interview is finished the attorney will notify the part that you are ready and you will be brought into the courtroom for your arraignment.
The arraignment is, in theory, the formal process by which you are informed of the charges against you and the rights you have as a defendant. In practice, this formal reading of the charges and rights is waived by defense counsel. The District Attorney will then give notice of any statements the People intend to use against you, as well as any identification of you by prosecution witnesses, and then give a short recitation of the NYPD’s version of the events that resulted in your arrest. This will generally be followed by a plea offer, which court personnel usually refer to as a “disposition offer.”If you are pleading “not guilty,” the court will then ask the District Attorney for a recommendation on whether you should be released on your own recognizance (“ROR’d”) or have bail set. Your attorney will then argue for “ROR” or lower bail, and inform the court if a friend or family member is in the audience to vouch for you. Unless you are taking a plea at the arraignment it is very unlikely that you will be asked to speak. Should you wish to say something or respond to something you have heard, it is advisable that you quietly tell the information to your attorney.
Be aware that arraignments are usually conducted at break-neck speed and the entire process will probably go by in a flash. But if something has transpired that you don’t understand or you think may result in an undesirable outcome, don’t hesitate to ask your attorney to stop and explain.
Last Updated: 25 July 2019
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