how to find out if someone is in custody

Depending on the state and jurisdiction, it can be difficult to determine how to find out if someone is in police custody for free. But, there are real ways to glean this information, you just need to know where and how to look for it.

If the person you suspect was arrested was only arrested recently, such as a few hours ago, it may be difficult to determine if they are in police custody. This is because the paperwork and booking may not yet be complete, so the information about the accused person may not yet be in the official database system.

Similarly, it can also be difficult to track someone down if you don’t know the jurisdiction where they are being held in custody, or where they were arrested, and since the laws vary by state, it can be tricky to do this the real way.

Due to these challenges, there are both verifiable ways and less accurate ways to determine if someone is in custody. While it is preferred to use official court records and law enforcement services, these are not always readily available. As a result, free online services can also act as a resource, although these are not always accurate.

However, by knowing your options, you can learn how to find out if someone is in police custody free, the real way.

Yes. The police must tell you if someone is being held and you can learn how to find out if someone was arrested. According to the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, the government must publish letters sharing the charges and whereabouts of citizens in police custody.1 This right is guaranteed by Habeas Corpus, and ensures that citizens are not held in custody in secret, without their friends and family knowing (a tactic used by totalitarian governments throughout history).

When someone is arrested, they first go through booking, where the police officials gather information on the accused person, such as name, address, and mug shot. Once they collect this data, they log the accused person’s info into their database (public lookup record), which makes the information more widely available.1

To find the relevant database, you can conduct an online search for the arrest records for your relevant jurisdiction, city or state. If you cannot find the database or it does not exist, try calling the local, county, and state police department. If the individual has already been booked, they should be able to tell you if the person is being held.

Related Reading: How to find out what someone was arrested for

However, there is a difference between having formal charges pressed against you, and being arrested and held in police custody. You can technically be held in police custody before charges are officially made. However, most states require that official charges must be released within 72 hours. Once someone is in custody for more than 72 hours, without any formal charges, they will likely be released.2

While that person will technically not have a criminal record, this could still appear on an arrest record search. That person can later try to appeal or expunge the record of arrest which has occurred, close select records and overall clear their name. This could close lookup records when an employer or someone else is conducting a screening on their background.3

If you know the jurisdiction where the person you are trying to find was last seen, you can call the local police department. Alternatively, you could call the county jail, to see if the person you are trying to locate is there. If you still have no luck, try calling neighboring areas.4

For example, in New York City, you can locate a person who may be in police custody by contacting the local police department or calling 311. (When you’re trying to find out if someone is being held, keep in mind that not all information is perfect, some records error completing records are incomplete based on data entry mistakes.)

Similarly, in Chicago, Illinois, you can search adult arrests throughout the city using the Chicago Police Department’s online database.(Just double check your entries to ensure no accidental issues occurred search results.) However, if you or a friend or family member is arrested in Chicago for theft, DUI, felonies, or another criminal charge, you can contact Chicago Trusted Attorneys or another lawyer firm for representation.5

When a police officer is completing arrest records, error completing booking information may result in a delay of the arrest record being made to the public.

Sometimes, it can take up to 24 hours for these records to be uploaded online, and you may get a notification that there is error completing request. In this case, you can close lookup records by using close select cancel and try again to view (or if you think an error occurred close select and try again).

If you have checked all official sources, and can still not determine whether or not someone you know is in custody, there are other ways to conduct a lookup search for free.

Check Online Databases

To check arrest records online, you should search for your local jurisdiction, county, city, or state and the phrase “arrest records.” If you do not find any results for free services, try rephrasing your online search with phrases such as “find someone in custody,” in your respective area. Often, this lookup field launch will connect you with free online databases, like a background check Texas lookup (and the same is true for a charged but not convicted background check). But, while this information can be quickly obtained, keep in mind that a free search is not always accurate.4

Once you find a free database, you should launch lookup modal within the resource. From there, you should search the name of the individual you are trying to find. If you do not get any accurate results, you should attempt to clear lookup field, and search any other names the individual may go by.

It can be hard to tell if the information is correct, so try to verify this information with official sources. For instance, if the free service notifies you that someone you know is being held at a nearby county jail, you should try calling that jail to verify the information. Remember, many free resources aren’t updated with the latest information regularly, so your best bet is always going to be doing the search yourself, or having assistance and help with a trusted background check tool or legal representation.

If you obtain results that you believe are inaccurate, or not close, select cancel to exit the database. In this case, it may be helpful to try contacting local officials again.

If you believe that the person you are looking for is detained by ICE at a detention center, you can use the online detainee locator to find out if they are detained. Similar to other online sources, this database uses field launch lookup, so you can search by name. This is yet another way to help you determine how to find out if someone is in police custody, free.

Since all of these real efforts can take time, there are other avenues available.

When to Use a Paid Service or Hire a Lawyer or Attorney

It is not only important to know how to find out if someone is in police custody, free, but also when a lawyer should be contacted. 

When someone is arrested, they will be brought to court for an arraignment before a magistrate judge, either the day of the arrest or the day after.

Typically, an individual will remain in police custody for 24-48 hours, while they await their arraignment. At the arraignment, the judge will decide whether the defendant will be held in prison, or released to await their trial. Furthermore, the accused person will be notified of their rights and be given the option to arrange legal help.

Between the arraignment and the trial, it is vital for the accused person to obtain legal representation and/or contact a lawyer. It is also important to find someone to represent them who is experienced in the area of law concerning the crime.

If you know someone who may be being held in custody, you can learn how to find someone quickly by using the local help options and free searches within the local law enforcement options. But remember that these free tools are subject to human error, just like all the rest. To avoid confusion and error, many times, your best option is to use a trust service or background check provider. Because although it can be difficult to know how to find out if someone is in police custody free, it is possible when the real methods are used correctly.

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