Are Mugshots Public Record in the United States?

May 26, 2024

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In this online reputation guide, we’re deep-diving the topic of online mugshots to answer the question, “Are mugshots public record in the U.S.?”

From the moment a person is arrested and charged with a crime, whether the crime is minor or serious, the legal process begins. This usually starts at the local police station.

An important part of this procedure is taking a mugshot of the individual, which also happens at the police station.

Have you been arrested and have had your mugshot taken? Whether or not you were ultimately found guilty, it’s very possible that your mugshot is still available online and will show up with a simple Google search for public records.

Does that mean mugshots are part of the official public record in the United States?

Let’s get into it.

What Are Mugshots?

A man with disheveled hair and a beard is holding a booking placard with the number "04392" in front of a corrugated metal wall. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, he appears to be in a serious or contemplative mood, perhaps aware that mugshots are public record.

Mugshots are booking photos of a person who’s been arrested. Whether the person has criminal charges for a minor crime or a felony offense, their mugshot will be taken. These photos are typically taken by police agencies, and they may be posted online.

Standard mugshots have two images: a front view and a side view of the person from around the shoulders and up.

In order to put all of the focus on the individual, these booking photographs are taken against a plain or simple background. Oftentimes, the person arrested holds a placard that contains the following information:

  • Date
  • Name
  • Booking number
  • Other relevant information (height, etc.)

These mugshots will then be included in the person’s record as well as public records.

You may think that mugshots are intended to be kept privately in the person’s criminal record. It’s common to assume they’re safely kept at the sheriff’s office, police station or another local law enforcement agency.

In actuality, mugshots are frequently used by law enforcement, and they can also be searched for online by anyone who decides they want to.

Why Do Mugshots Matter to Law Enforcement Agencies?

Two uniformed officers sit at a table with paperwork. The officer in the foreground is focused on writing, while the officer in the background is working on a laptop. Both appear to be in a serious discussion, possibly in an office or briefing room, perhaps debating whether mugshots are public record.

Thanks to mugshots, it can be quick and relatively easy to identify and arrest a person who has committed a crime. When mugshots appear on law enforcement websites, it’s much easier to figure out who may be responsible for a crime and see what that individual looks like to catch them.

In addition, the police can easily send and share the photos to other law enforcement agencies or a neighboring police department. This can help them find an individual or catch a suspect.

Mugshots can also help you learn about the condition of a person during the time of booking. For example, you can see if the person had any wounds or injuries when the photo was taken thanks to their mug shot.

How Are Mugshots Used in Criminal Investigation Records?

Usually, mugshots are taken as part of the legal booking process for arrested or detained individuals. A law enforcement agency takes the arrest photos and carries out other booking procedures, such as getting fingerprints.

Afterward, defendants will stay in the city or county jail until they are either bailed out or brought to court with their criminal defense lawyer.

It’s clear why mugshots are helpful for law enforcement purposes. However, they can also be found online by any random user who performs a search for an individual’s public records.

Does this mean that mugshots are actually part of the public record in the United States?

Are Mugshots Public Record in the United States?

A person in a blue shirt is typing on a laptop keyboard. Above the laptop, floating icons of documents with checkmarks and X marks indicate approval and rejection. A smartphone is on the table beside the laptop, possibly to check if mugshots are public record.

Mugshots are part of the arrest records of law enforcement agencies, and they’re also part of the public domain in the United States, at least in most states. Because of implemented laws like the Freedom of Information Act, anyone can get ahold of these mugshots.

According to the publication Public Access to Criminal History Record Information from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “At the federal level, and in every state, freedom of information or open record statutes make [government-held records] available to the public, subject to a showing that the records are exempt from disclosure.”

However, there may be guidelines about which records to seal, which would make them unavailable to the public. For specific information pertaining to your area, find the state public records act.

For example, according to the New York State Unified Court System, “Sealing means that the record still exists, but all related fingerprint and palmprint cards, booking photos, and DNA samples may be returned to you or destroyed [and] hidden from the public.”

That said, most of the time, mugshots are considered public records and part of what can be found in arrest records online. Throughout the United States, a myriad of local, state, and federal laws require records collected by government agencies to be published to publicly-accessible databases.

Anyone Can Find Mugshots Online Through Mugshot Websites

A website page featuring a search engine for mugshots with a header reading "" The page shows thumbnails of celebrity mugshots, with a main headline stating "Shocking Celebrity Mugshots." A sidebar lists "Latest Mugshots," hints that mugshots are public record, and displays an ad at the top.

Even though mugshots are taken by the police department and used primarily for arrest records, you can often find mugshots online for famous people and non-famous people who’ve been arrested.

All you need to do is conduct a search on a mug shot website, then browse the list of search results posted online to find the individual you’re looking for. Some people will even perform more casual searches where they simply peruse mugshot websites to see which images are available.

Are mugshots wreaking havoc on your personal or professional life? For a free consultation and removal analysis, contact us today.

An Overview of Popular Mugshot and Mugshot-Related Websites

Today, the internet has made it possible for anyone to search for court records, arrest records and mugshots from the comfort of their own living room.

While some people feel that mugshot websites satisfy public interest by increasing public safety and transparency, others are worried about their privacy and the damage that past, outdated or misunderstood information could do to their reputation.

In this section, we’ll discuss some of the more popular mugshot websites and sites that are similar to mug shot finders.

Understanding where your information may show up is the first step to taking control of the information about you online and protecting your online reputation.

Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website

Unlike a typical mugshot website that is privately operated, the National Sex Offender Public Website is run by the United States Department of Justice. As its name suggests, this site is a sex offender registry that allows visitors to search for sex offenders in a specific area.

Employers, parents, and other individuals may use the NSOPW search engine to get official records about serial rapists and other sex offenders from their own neighborhoods or from other communities and states. This sex offender registry is constantly updated, with the information provided by different jurisdictions.

This site may look largely similar to other mug shot sites. However, since it is operated by the government, you can be assured that the information here is more accurate compared to other mug shot websites.

Also, this site specifically focuses on sex crimes only. It was pioneered to protect vulnerable populations.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator

Aside from the Department of Justice’s NSOPW, the Federal Bureau of Prisons also offers an online service that lets people search for an inmate in prison.

This is similar to what you’ll find on mugshot sites. However, the search results do not include an actual mugshot of the inmate or their criminal records. Instead, you can get details like the inmate’s name, register number, age, race, gender, release date, and location.

A search results page for Mike Smith includes details like name, register number, age, sex, and release date, along with related links such as "are mugshots public record," "call or email," "send mail/package," "send money," "visit," and "voice a concern.

The inmate locator doesn’t function as a mugshot website. However, it remains a reliable way to find information about those in jail, even if they’ve been released.

Consumer Reporting Agencies

Consumer reporting agencies may appear similar to traditional mugshot sites, but this isn’t as clearcut as it seems.

A mugshot website lists mugshots of certain people who have been booked by a law enforcement agency. A consumer reporting agency, on the other hand, collects data about people and then provides consumer reports to companies.

Unlike mugshot websites, consumer reporting agencies are bound by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This preserves the personal privacy of the people involved. They are strict when it comes to providing up-to-date records.

That doesn’t mean that criminal information won’t be included, though.

According to the Federal Register, the reports “sometimes include information about a consumer’s credit history, rental history, employment, salary, professional licenses, criminal arrests and convictions, and driving records.”

What Are the Implications of Mugshots Being Public Records?

A man in a suit and tie stands against a height chart background, holding a sign with the number "367985." The chart shows height measurements in feet and inches. The man's neutral expression adds to the typical look often seen in mugshots, which are public record.

In some cases, being able to access mugshots online can improve public safety and protect vulnerable populations.

Even if you’ve never seen an individual in person, knowing what they look like thanks to an online mugshot search can help you make better decisions about whether or not to engage with them. It can also help the public to identity criminals who need to be turned in to the police.

That said, there are also strong downsides of having mugshots available to the public. When anyone can view a mugshot, there is the potential for mugshot extortion.

Safeguard Yourself Against Mugshot Extortion

Arrest records and mugshots were available to the public before Google and other search engines could mine the internet for data.

While that information was intended to be public, it wasn’t necessarily intended to be found with a quick and easy online search.

However, because of the Freedom of Information Act, data brokers and mugshot websites can scrape the internet. This gathers booking details, court records, arrest records and mugshot photos.

This can lead to reputational damage, personal humiliation, and an unwanted invasion of privacy for some people. Regardless of your past or why you had your mugshot taken, being listed on a mugshot website makes it seem like you’re a criminal and should be considered suspicious.

Furthermore, even if you were found innocent, having a mugshot can make you look like a guilty criminal. Employers, potential romantic partners, landlords and other people in your life will make an immediate judgment when they find your mugshot online, regardless of the circumstances.

This could seriously impact your employment chances, online reputation, personal life, and the opportunities you come across.

To prevent this, it’s important to have your mugshots removed from online search results. For immediate help, contact us today.

How To Remove Mugshots Online

Unless you take action to have your mugshots erased, they may stay on the site indefinitely.

One thing you can do is file a petition with the court. Ask for your arrest records or other relevant records to be sealed or expunged. If this is successful, you can send the expungement order to specific mugshot sites that have published your mugshot.

Some mugshot sites also have their own procedures for mugshot removal.

It is important to note, though, that the process for getting your mugshot removed may depend on the following:

  • How serious the charges are
  • Whether a conviction was made
  • Whether charges were expunged, dismissed or dropped
  • When the incident happened

A more simple, convenient, and sure way to protect your information online is to opt for mugshot removal services. By entrusting mugshot removal to a professional and experienced third-party service, you can be sure that your mugshot will be removed and that your online reputation will be managed.

Get a free removal analysis today.

Mugshots Don’t Make People Criminals

It is important to know that mugshots simply record the booking of an individual. They do not prove that a person is guilty or not.

When you see or search for mugshots online, you must know that not everyone there is a charged criminal and that these sites are not completely accurate.

There may be closed cases where the defendant was charged as innocent. There may also be cold cases where no verdict was made. Ultimately, it is the court that determines whether a charged or arrested individual is guilty or not.

Do you need help with getting your personal info and mugshots off the web? Contact us today for a free consultation and removal analysis. You can also learn more about mugshot removal and negative content suppression by calling 866-601-6803 .

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