Most mug shots are part of the public record, because most state and local law-enforcement agencies are subject to open records laws, according to the Open Government Guide. Federal government agencies are covered by the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Department of Justice, though on a federal level there have been cases where mug shots have not been released. Different jurisdictions will all have slightly different processes to search their mug shots and criminal records, and even those processes and ease of access can vary based on the nature of the crime. Start online, and then resort to calling, writing or visiting the agencies holding the information.
Direct the browser to a broad records search site, such as Searchsystems.net, which provides a good starting point for any search and will be used for demonstration purposes. Other similar sites include publicrecords.onlinesearches.com and www.publicrecordfinder.com.
Click "Criminal Records" under the "Type of Records" heading. This will narrow the search to criminal records, filtering out other public records like birth records and death records.
Click on the link of the state whose records you wish to search. This will pull up a window listing the sites that host criminal records for that state.
Click the most applicable site. If the criminals whose mug shots and record you are looking for are currently incarcerated, this should be fairly easy, because most county and state jails have websites that list their inmate populations, along with vital information and photos. An example would be the Alachua County jail in Florida. (See References.)
There will also be links directly to sites about inmates on death row, and their records and pictures are usually available on these sites as well. Finally, there will be links to sex offenders, who are listed, with pictures and full records, regardless of whether they are in jail, because of federal sex offender laws.
If you are looking for mugshots of criminals arrested and convicted but not currently in jail, or if the inmate is at a federal penitentiary, the process may be a bit more complicated and is covered in the next section.
Compose a letter to the clerk at the court where the criminals of interest were convicted. In this letter, you will say that you are making a public records request for criminal records and mug shots. Many states, such as New Jersey, even have an online form that you can fill out to complete the request. (See Resources.) The content of the letter will vary depending on the law applying to the court you are writing, but you should refer to the specific public records law that applies.
Call the clerk of the court to verify receipt of the letter.
Call back or send a follow-up letter if you have not received a response within the legal time frame. The legal time frame for responding to such a request varies from one government to another, but it usually is between 10 and 30 days. In California, for instance, government agencies must respond to a request with an answer within 10 days, though in some cases they can request a 14-day extension, according to the California Public Records Act.
Respond legally if you are denied the request without adequate reason. This would involve filing an appeal to a superior court. There are many legal reasons for governments to deny access to public records, so you must consult the laws first.