Are Mugshots Public Record in the USA?

July 12, 2022

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Are mugshots public record in the United States? In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into mugshots online, helping you understand how they got there and what you can do about it.

A special legal process begins the moment a person is charged or arrested due to a minor or serious crime. The process remains the same whether this suspect is found guilty or innocent of a minor or serious crime. An important part of this procedure is having a mugshot taken.

If you or a person you know has previous criminal charges, it is likely that the police had to provide mugshots of you or that person. It doesn’t immediately mean that you are found guilty; it is simply part of the process.

However, even if a mug shot is typically used for a criminal record, you can actually look for mugshots online. This makes you wonder if these photos are public records or not and whether this is a good thing or not.

Find out what mugshots are all about, whether they are considered public records in the USA, and how you can erase a mugshot online.

What Are Mugshots?

Mugshots are booking photos of a person arrested. Whether these people have criminal charges for a minor crime or a felony offense, their mug shots will be taken. These photos are mostly taken by police agencies.

Standard mug shots have two images. They are a combination of the front view and side view of the individual.

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

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

These mug shots will then be included in the person’s record.

You may think that these mugshots are just simple photos for a criminal record to be kept in the sheriff’s office or a law enforcement agency, but they actually help with a number of things.

Why Do Mugshots Matter To Law Enforcement Agencies?

Because of mug shots, it is faster and easier to identify and potentially arrest a person due to a crime. Instead of having to describe the physical appearance of a person, the police and other investigators can just refer to these mug shots.

In addition, it also simplifies the search process not just for the police department but for other law agencies as well. The police can easily send and share these portraits to other law enforcement agencies that could help them find an individual or catch crime suspects.

Mugshots can also help you know more about the condition of a person during the time of booking. You can see if this person had any wounds or injuries during the time the photo was taken.

How Are Mugshots Used In Criminal Investigation Records?

Usually, mugshots are taken as part of the law booking process of arrested or detained individuals. A law enforcement agency takes these booking photographs along with other booking information procedures, such as getting fingerprints or genetic samples.

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

The above uses show that mug shots are indeed helpful for law enforcement purposes. However, they can also be found online. Does this mean that mugshots are actually public records in the US?

Are Mugshots Considered Public Records In the USA?

So, are mugshots public record in the US?

While mugshots are part of the arrest records of law enforcement agencies, they are actually kept in the public domain in the US. Because of implemented laws like the Freedom Of Information Act, anyone can get hold of these mugshots.

The exemption to this law is if specific arrest records are sealed. In such a case, the legal agency would withhold information.

That being said, mugshots are indeed considered public records. 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

Even if mugshots are taken by the police department and used primarily for arrest records, you can actually find prominent mugshots online.

There are websites that contain widely released mugshots. All you need to do is to search through a mugshot website and browse through the search results to find the person or record you are looking for.

Mugshot Websites: What They Are And What They Aren’t

The US National Sex Offender Public Website

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

Employers, parents, and other individuals may use the NSOPW search engine to get information 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 mugshot sites. However, since it is operated by the government, you can be assured that the information here is more accurate compared to other mugshot websites.

Also, this site specifically focuses on sex crimes and not any other crimes. It was clearly pioneered to protect vulnerable populations.

The 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 is quite similar yet altogether different. With this service, visitors can search for an inmate in prison.

While this may be largely similar to mugshot sites, the search results do not include an actual mug shot of the inmate. It gives off details about the inmate’s name, register number, age, race, sex, release date, and location. However, the site does not publish mugshots of the inmates.

Thus, this site does not exactly count as a mugshot site.

Consumer Reporting Agencies

Consumer reporting agencies may also appear similar to mugshot sites. However, this is not the case.

A mugshot website simply lists mugshots of certain people with assumed charges. A consumer reporting agency, however. collects info about a certain person and then gives consumer reports to other companies.

Unlike a mugshot website, these consumer reporting agencies are bounded by the Fair Credit Reporting Act in order to preserve the personal privacy of the person involved. They are strict when it comes to the up-to-datedness of records and non-convictions.

The same, however, cannot be said for mugshot sites.

What Are The Implications Of Mugshots Being Public Records?

It is true that being able to see mugshots may boost public safety and protect vulnerable populations. Even if the public does not know an individual, seeing the mugshot of the individual can help them identify and report the individual to the police.

Despite this reality, there are also strong downsides that come with having mugshots available for the public. When anyone can view a mug shot, there is room for mugshot extortion.

Safeguard Yourself Against Mugshot Extortion

Most government websites, if not all of them, were not meant to be indexed in Google. Despite this, a mugshot website scrapes through these government sites and gives “Freedom of Information” appeals in order to access tons of booking details pertaining to arrest records.

Having such records on a mugshot website leads to humiliation, damage, and unwarranted invasion on a personal level. This is because getting listed on mugshot sites gives off a strong association between the person and suspected criminal activity.

This is true even if the individual is innocent. Overall, because they are considered a public record, listings on mugshot sites give the impression that all the people there are criminals even if the verdict is yet to be seen or says otherwise.

If that very person was found to be innocent after the photo was shared on mugshot sites, the person’s overall record can get damaged. This could affect the person’s employment chances, online reputation, and overall opportunities.

If the site doesn’t remove photos even when criminal charges are clear and when there is a release pursuant, it may also lead to unwarranted invasion and misunderstandings. Hence, to prevent this, it is important to have mugshots removed.

If a mugshot of you or a person you know can be found on a mugshot website, you should have these mugshots removed.

How To Remove Mugshots Online

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

One thing you can do is to file a petition to the court and ask for your arrest records or any other relevant records to be sealed or expunged. If this yields success, you can send the expungement order to specific mugshot sites that have published your mug shot.

Some mugshot sites also have their own procedures for mugshot removal. It is important to note, though, that the costs for getting your mugshot removed may depend on how serious the charges are, whether a conviction was made, whether charges were expunged/dismissed/dropped, and when the incident happened.

A more simple, convenient, and sure way, on the other hand, is to opt for mugshot removal services. By entrusting the mugshot removal to a third-party service, you can be sure that your mugshot will get removed and that your online reputation will be monitored.

Mugshots Don’t Make People Criminals

It is important to know that mugshots simply record the booking; they do not prove that a person is guilty or not. Thus, 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.

Need help with getting your personal info off the web? Contact us now! Learn more about mugshot removal and negative content suppression by calling  866-601-6803 .

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