How To Find Out Why Someone Went to Jail

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A party can find out why a defendant went to jail by searching for the defendant in the jail's inmate lookup system online. The party can then search the database of the court that is hearing the defendant's case. The court database should contain a summary of the defendant's case.

A party can usually determine why a defendant went to jail by searching the online database of the county jail that is holding the defendant. Usually, the county jail lists a defendant’s name, case number and booking date. The party should then look up the defendant’s case number on the website of the court hearing the defendant’s case. Often, she will be able to find a case summary for the defendant.

Call the Jail or Arresting Agency

A party can also find out why a defendant went to jail by calling the jail or agency that arrested the defendant. The jail should be able to explain how the defendant came into contact with law enforcement officers. It can also share the charge on which he was booked. The agency that arrested the defendant should be able to share the same information and the name of the arresting officer.

Ask a Bail Bondsman

A party can also call the bail bondsman for the defendant. The bail bondsman has to post the entire amount of the bail for the defendant to be released. The bail bondsman should know the defendant’s charges and why he was arrested.

Try the Criminal Court

The court hearing the case for which the defendant was arrested should know why the defendant went to jail. A party should call the clerk of criminal court and provide the defendant’s name, birthdate, booking charges and case number. The clerk of court should be able to provide a brief statement about the status of the defendant’s case.

A Warrant May Be the Reason

A defendant may be in jail because a judge issued one of two warrants. A judge issues a bench warrant when a defendant does not show up for court. A judge issues an arrest warrant if a law enforcement officer demonstrates probable cause that a crime was committed and there is sufficient information that the defendant is a suspect.

Prison Cases Are Different

When a defendant is incarcerated in a prison, which is a state or federal facility, the defendant has already been sentenced on the charges in his case. Since the case is no longer open, it can be harder to find out why the defendant has been sentenced. A party can make a request to the state department of corrections to see records about the defendant and his charges.

When a Defendant Has Multiple Cases

A defendant facing criminal charges in more than one jurisdiction may be in jail because a second county has placed a hold on him. Even if the defendant’s first case has been resolved, the hold will last until the second county can transport the defendant to its jail. If the party knows the defendant has multiple cases, he should call the jail holding the defendant and ask what other county has a hold on the defendant. The party should then call the clerk of criminal court for that county.

When ICE Has Detained Someone

If a defendant is a foreign national, a county jail may detain her pursuant to a request or agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE can also detain a foreign national in an ICE-operated detention facility or a correctional facility. A party can locate where an adult foreign national is being detained with ICE's Online Detainee Locator System. ICE does not give information for people under 18 years of age. A family member or legal representative can learn why a foreign national was detained by contacting the Enforcement and Removal Operations office associated with the foreign national.

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About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.