Editor's note: This is the first story in an occasional series on understanding the criminal justice system.

You've seen it a million times: police arrest an alleged criminal, the handcuffs come out, the suspect is Mirandized and then – “Book 'em, Danno.”

Pop culture has painted a picture of what it's like to be arrested, but how close is it to real life? Do cops have to read a person their Miranda rights? Are they hauled into a dark room and interrogated with a light shining in their face? Does a person really only get one phone call?

What exactly happens after the handcuffs are on?

'Miranda' may not be there

First, officers do not always have to recite a subject's Miranda rights. Miranda rights (or the Miranda warning, as it is sometimes called) were created in 1966 as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. It is intended to protect a defendant's Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer self-incriminating questions.

To read a suspect their Miranda rights, they must first be in custody, and an officer must plan on using whatever they say against them in court, according to Lt. Karl Odenthal, a spokesman for Aiken Public Safety.

Odenthal used a shoplifting as an example: If someone is detained for shoplifting, and a store employee saw the incident happen and gave officers their statement, there is enough to charge the suspect.

“I don't ever have to read them Miranda rights; I just take them through the process,” Odenthal said. “What I'll do is go ahead and read them their Miranda rights and then say, 'Hey, what happened,' just so I have it. Now, anything they say I can use in the case against them. If somebody says, 'Yeah, I took it. I was trying to get something for my baby,' I'll say, 'They admitted it and this is why they took it.' I can testify to what they told me.”

Sometimes, what a suspect said can still be used even if the Miranda warning wasn't read, Odenthal said. He recalled a man arrested on unrelated warrants who also was in possession of marijuana. The suspect heard Odenthal and the other officer discussing the contraband, and the suspect asked, “What did it look like?”

Odenthal said he described the substance to the man, who responded, “Yeah, I bought that for five bucks.”

“Even though I didn't use Miranda, I wasn't talking to him,” Odenthal said. “He just spontaneously uttered something incriminating.”

It's often a misconception that officers have to read every suspect the Miranda warning.

“People think, 'Hey, you didn't read me my rights,'” Odenthal said. “We don't have to. If you're not in custody and I'm not using it against you, are basically the guidelines ... You can't go wrong giving them Miranda.

You're less likely to get things thrown out.”

Spread 'em

After being handcuffed, officers will then pat a person down and search them before placing them into the back of the patrol car.

Odenthal said officers search the backs of their police vehicles at the beginning of a shift, and he searches his each time he places a suspect in the seat.

“Anything that's in there, I know they brought it in,” he said. “If I find a crack pipe in there, I know it wasn't in there when I put them in, and then I can charge them with it.”

While on the scene, officers fill out a booking sheet that includes the subject's personal information, their offenses and the details of the charges, according to Odenthal. That sheet is taken with the subject and the officer to the detention center. It's important for a person to be honest when providing personal information to officers, as giving them false information could result in further charges.

Also, people should not resist or argue with officers, as this too can result in further charges.

“This is not the time to argue your case,” Odenthal said. “There's a time and a place for everything – you're going to have your day in court. It doesn't mean you're guilty of a charge just because you're arrested. That just means probable cause exists to take you to court on it.”

On the way to Public Safety headquarters or the detention center, the officer will provide dispatch with the subject's name and birth date information to obtain a criminal history.

“It searches everything,” Odenthal said, adding that it includes other counties and states. “If they've been arrested – whether it's a conviction or not – it'll be on there.”

An officer will decide whether to send the subject home with a ticket and a court appearance date, or take them to the Doris C. Gravat Detention Center.


Aiken Public Safety has a booking room that was formerly used more frequently; however, recent changes resulted in much of the booking process taking place at the detention center, according to Odenthal.

“There are some special circumstances where we book somebody and then release them, and then they come in on their court date,” he said. “We arrest somebody and she has absolutely no family here, and she has a 5-year-old coming home on the school bus. She's not a flight risk; you still have to go with this charge and we still have to do our thing, but we'll release you and you'll have your court date you have to appear on.”

Now, the booking room at Public Safety is typically used for such cases, or juvenile bookings. Aiken Public Safety and the detention center both have a new computerized system of taking fingerprints that takes pictures of the person's prints, as opposed to the former method of pressing each finger to an ink pad and then onto the paper. Odenthal said three copies of fingerprints are required, so the officer and suspect would have to ink and press each finger three times.

“As we were doing that, they were transporting people to the jail and then they'd roll three sets of prints at the jail,” Odenthal said. “We said, 'We're doing the same thing. It's keeping our guys off the road for another half hour. They've got a similar system to us – can you print us out some cards?'”

The booking process is longer for DUI, which requires an officer to give a suspect a Breathalyzer and a 20-minute observation period at headquarters before booking, Odenthal said. After booking a suspect and taking them to jail, the officer then has to pull video and complete an incident report.

There is also the initial 20 to 30 minutes spent conducting field sobriety testing on the roadside.

“It could take an oficer off the road for two or two-and-a-half hours, the way it used to be,” Odenthal said.

The newer process takes 30 to 40 minutes off the time required for booking.

Sometimes, a police interview at the station may be necessary; for example, after an armed robbery.

“You have one of the suspects and know there's at least another one; you would give them their Miranda warning prior to talking to them,” Odenthal said, adding that such interviews are more formal and are tape recorded. The suspect must also sign a paper waving their Miranda rights and indicating they are talking with police on their own free will.

Typically, a person's “one phone call” is not limited to one, and any phone calls are normally made at the jail, according to Odenthal.

“They're generally in a holding area, so I don't think their calls are limited to just one,” he said. “As long as they're sitting there and no one's on the phone, I think they allow you to make another call.”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.