How do state laws affect accessibility to public arrest records?

federal arrest records

Public Arrest Records

In these modern days, almost any information is accessible to the public. This is due to the advancements of technology, particularly the Internet. Anyone with the right knowledge and search skills can readily locate arrests records online. In the United States, arrests records are generally public property and therefore can easily be accessed by the employers, lenders, landlords and so forth.


Public access to records are a serious issue in America today. Many arrestees believe that their lives are being negatively affected by the access the public has to their past. To make matters worse, these records are available to the public even if the arrestee is not convicted of any crime or misdemeanor. In simple terms, a person’s arrest detail is no indication of guilt. Unfortunately, since employers and others place much emphasis on these records an arrestee’s opportunities to buy a house, gain education, or employment can be greatly reduced.

If you have been arrested in the past, you may wonder what type of information about you can be accessed by the public. Most arrest records provide personal information about you as well as the reason for your arrest. This record also entails a booking photo which is taken upon arrest. This photo is also known as a mugshot.  A booking photo as well as the following information may be found online:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Eye Color


Even if you have not been arrested in the past, you can still perform an arrest record search. This will allow you to check up on various people, especially if you find their behavior threatening or suspicious. You can do this before you choose a potential date or even roommate. After all, you can save yourself from future heartache or regret.

You may be wondering what steps you can take in order to perform an online search. Rest assured that this search can be done by almost anyone, including Internet novices. A quick way to accomplish this is to search for mugshots.

  1. Open a browser.
  2. Type the name of the person whose record you wish to find.
  3. Beside the name type the word “mugshot”. For example, “George Smith mugshot”

Another option is to do a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) search. This search will identify web pages that have the information you seek.

  1. Access a search engine.
  2. Type in the URL the following name and relevant details. For instance, “Ashley James arrested”.


How State laws affect records

After attempting to do an online search you may discover that public criminal records are sometimes difficult to find. This is due to various state laws and procedures which determine whether or not a record remains public. In many cases, arrestees can remove their record from public domain through a process called sealing/ expungement. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably.  However, there is a distinction between these processes.

Sealing usually means that the record is removed from public view but remains accessible to government agencies. On the other hand, expungement usually denotes a complete removal of the record. If you understand the state in which the arrest occurs and the laws that govern that state, you will more likely be able to access the records.

You can check relevant government/ law enforcement websites for further information on a state’s expungement laws. The websites that are relevant to you will depend on which state you live. For example, if you live in the state of Florida you may want to check the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website. If you live in Texas you can check the Texas Department of Public Safety website.

Things to consider before applying for an expungement

  • An expungement is not an automatic process. Candidates must first apply for their records to be dismissed. The relevant authorizes will review the case and determine if it is approved.
  • An expungement is not available in every state. Some states, like New York allow your record to be sealed instead of expunged. This simply means that your record is closed to public view but is still available to government agencies such as a probation department.      States like Texas, however, allow complete expungement.
  • If you were arrested as a juvenile your criminal record may have been sealed automatically depending on the laws which govern your state.
  • Some states offer a partial sealing whereby your fingerprint and mugshot is removed from public view while the other information on your file remains available.
  • Usually, your record is more likely to be expunged if your reason for arrest was minor, especially if your case was dismissed before trial.
  • Some states, for example, require that criminal arrest records of a serious nature be sealed for a couple of years before it is eligible for expungement.
  • In order to get your record expunged, some states like Florida require that you apply for a “Certificate of Eligibility” before you expungement application can be reviewed. This process may take a few months to be complete.  In addition, it usually comes at a cost so check relevant state agencies to verify the costs. In the case of Florida, contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

If you have a criminal record, do not think it is the end of the world. There are many things you can do to alleviate the ramifications of your record. Some of these include checking if your record is online then researching the laws that govern your State. This will help you to know what options you have as it pertains to sealing or expunging public arrest records.

About Angela

Hello, Cyber world! I currently work as the Web Content Editor for the Expunge Center page and through my whole life writing and blogging has been in my Top priorities.

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