Defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to legal representation at every critical stage of the proceeding, but courts regard booking as a routine administrative procedure, not a crucial event warranting legal counsel.
Example: Cliff Hangar is arrested and taken to jail. He refuses to participate in the booking process, demanding that the police let him phone for a lawyer. However, the police do not have to allow Cliff to call a lawyer until the completion of the booking process. Until then, Cliff should just answer the booking officer’s questions, and should not talk about his case.
Suspects Should Be Cautious When Volunteering Information
For many suspects, the booking process is impersonal, long, and humiliating, which leaves them extremely vulnerable. With no attorney to provide comfort and advice, people being booked are prone to start talking to the police officers who suddenly hold sway over them. These voluntary statements can be used as evidence in court. Therefore, regardless of the psychological pressures of booking, suspects are well advised to say nothing about their case until they’ve spoken to an attorney.
Laws in many states allow suspects to make one or more free local calls as soon as booking is completed. (See, for example, Cal. Penal Code § 851.5.) Suspects typically call attorneys, bail bond sellers, or friends and relatives, in an effort to make bail or at least hear a friendly voice. However, suspects need to be very careful about what they say over the phone, because police officers and other people may overhear their conversations or even monitor the calls.
This article was excerpted from The Criminal Law Handbook, by Paul Bergman, J.D., and Sara J. Berman, J.D.