Many jails provide free, online access to basic arrest information, including a booking mugshot. To find your mugshot through official channels, if available, provide a few basic pieces of information, such as where you were arrested and your name. However, not all mugshots are published online and there's a move towards making them generally unavailable on the internet.
FOIA and Mugshots
Freedom of Information Act laws in various states require that government agencies provide citizens with information deemed public, if requested. While the types of documents vary depending on the jurisdiction, arrest records, including charges and jail logs, are generally viewed as public record. The law becomes murkier when it comes to mugshots, and policies vary across agencies. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the U.S. Marshals Service started refusing to release mugshots in December 2012 due to privacy concerns. In some instances, local law enforcement agencies, such as the Richland County Jail in South Carolina, have crafted barriers to access in an effort to keep booking photos off of mugshot aggregating websites.
FOIA laws generally require immediate access to public records when they are available and the relevant office is open. For example, in Arkansas, booking information must be available during an agency's hours of operation, or 24/7 at a jail. To maintain compliance, many jails publish online booking information, including mugshots, as an inmate directory. In Arkansas' Pulaski County, you can locate a mugshot of a current inmate by visiting the sheriff's office website, clicking the inmate roster button and selecting an individual's name. However, booking mugs are limited to those in custody, not historical arrests.
While many agencies maintain a database only of individuals currently in custody or booked within a pre-specified time period, such as the past 30 days, others keep information online regarding offenders on probation or parole. In North Carolina, the Department of Public Safety maintains an inmate locator database featuring mugshots of current offenders and historical arrest information. The database is searchable by name and offender identification number and allows you to limit results to arrests within a specified time period.
Mugshot Aggregation Websites
The online publication of arrest information, including mugshots, created an opportunity for third-party websites to feature the same arrest information as the county jail. These sites pull information from online jail rosters and publish it in categories that are often based on geographical location or crime classification. While jails and law enforcement sites generally remove information when you are released or charges are dropped, these third-party sites often retain photos indefinitely or charge you a fee for removal.
If you can't find your mugshot on an inmate roster for the jail or state prison where you were booked, an image search should help determine if it exists on the web in any form. From a search engine, for example Google or Yahoo!, type in your name surrounded by quotation marks, such as "John Smith." When the search results are returned, click the image link to view the best photo matches. Try variations of your name, such as last name, first name or adding your middle initial or middle name in order to rule out all possible names a booking officer would log.
Finding Mugshots is About to Get Harder
Going forward, you may find it much harder to find a mugshot online. The state of Florida, for example, recently proposed a bill to prevent mugshots from being automatically posted online and removing charges for people who want their image permanently scrubbed from a website. The mugshot would still be public record but people would have to file an information request to see it. With the general push towards better privacy protection, it’s likely that more of these bills will pop up in the future.