Widely-used enough to have an almost-universally recognized meaning, the term “mugshot” is actually a slang term for an official headshot, usually taken by the police. Mugshots are used as identifying photographs of criminal suspects. Generally, mugshots are taken in a series and include multiple views of the suspect, including a frontal view, profile or side view, and sometimes even the back view of the suspect. Sometimes mugshots will include a full-body shot, and they often will include some type of height marker to indicate the suspect’s height.

When Are They Taken?

Mugshots are also taken at different points in the criminal justice process. For example, it is now common for jails and prisons to take photos of incoming inmates. Some states have these photos online so that people can use visual identification when accessing a state’s prisoner lookup services. Moreover, some even take yearly photos of the prisoners in their population. These photos are also known as mugshots and can be used by prison officials to help identify prisoners.

When Are They Used?

Mugshots can also be used during criminal investigations. One way that law enforcement agencies use mugshots is when trying to get identifications of suspected criminals. Witnesses can look through books of mugshots to see if they can identify the perpetrator of a crime. However, these photo lineups must follow stringent guidelines and cannot be unduly suggestive or else the validity of the witness’s identification will be questionable. Generally, a suspect’s mugshot should be shown to a witness along with photographs of similar-looking individuals, rather than with photos of people who do not match the same rough physical description. Identification of a suspect from a mugshot lineup can help the police narrow their investigations, but can also taint the witness’s identification of that suspect at subsequent in-person line-ups because of concerns that the witness is choosing the person remembered from the mugshot lineup and not the person remembered from the criminal event.

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