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Even if Trump gets a mug shot, we may not see it. Here's why

Former president Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Monday, a day before his arraignment.
Bryan Woolston
/
AP
Former president Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Monday, a day before his arraignment.

Typically, when a person shows up for arraignment, there are a few logistical things they have to take care of before they can appear in front of a judge: namely, fingerprints, photographs and paperwork.

It's not entirely clear what that process will look like for former President Donald Trump, who is slated to arrive at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon to hear the charges against him and enter a plea.

A New York grand jury indicted Trump last week in connection with his alleged role in covering up hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign.

The historic indictment of a former president (and current presidential candidate) is a first in the U.S. So there is little precedent and much uncertainty about what happens next.

One growing area of curiosity — especially as Trump's campaign has sought to fundraise and capitalize off his legal woes — is whether he will have a mug shot taken. And if so, will people be able to see it?

The short answer is: Probably not, unless it somehow gets leaked.

The pros and cons of mug shots

Mug shots are sets of photos of the defendant from the shoulders up that also include identifying information like their height and date of arrest.

They are typically taken as part of the booking process and serve several purposes, like confirming which of multiple people with the same name was actually arrested and establishing their physical condition at that time.

Mug shots historically remained in police files, but in many cases are now available online.

Mug shots only show that a person was booked, not whether they were found innocent or guilty. And their internet presence can often come at someone's professional or personal expense.

The rules around publishing mug shots are oft-debated and ever-evolving, with policies varying by state.

New York passed a 'mug shot ban' in 2019

Then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2020 budget included a law that effectively banned law enforcement from releasing most mug shots to the public.

He had initially proposed banning the release of other booking information, like names and charges, which he called an "unwanted invasion of personal privacy."

Critics pushed back, fearing "secret arrests" and a lack of accountability, and lawmakers ultimately passed a scaled-down version of the bill focusing only on mug shots.

In April 2019, Cuomo signed legislation amending the Freedom of Information Law to expressly state that "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy includes ... disclosure of law enforcement arrest or booking photographs of an individual."

The so-called ban does have some exceptions: It says photographs can be released if they will "serve a specific law enforcement purpose and disclosure is not precluded by any state or federal laws."

That could mean, for example, when investigators are searching for a missing or wanted person.

What Trump's team has said

Some mug shots have leaked in the past, despite New York's law discouraging their release, the Associated Press reports.

It's possible that could happen in such a high-profile case — if mug shots are taken — but it's unclear whether that's something Trump's team would want.

They challenged a media request to have video cameras in the courtroom, (though the judge overseeing the case ruled on Monday that five pool photographers can take still photos before the arraignment itself).

Alina Habba, an attorney representing Trump in several legal matters, argued on CNN on Monday that mug shots would be unnecessary in Trump's case.

"[Mug shots] are for people so that you recognize who they are," she said. "He's the most recognized face in the world, let alone the country, right now, so there's no need for that."

She also said that even if mug shots are taken, they should not be released to the public.

"I like transparency. I think that in certain situations, it's a good thing. I do have a problem with leaking of pictures," Habba added. "I think that because we're in a campaign, because he's the leading GOP candidate, it's not going to help anything."

Trump has made no secret of his indictment — he's posted on social media about it (even incorrectly predicting it would happen days before it did) and plans to give a prime-time speech from Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night.

And citing three unnamed sources familiar with the situation, Rolling Stone reports that some of Trump's aides and advisers have pushed him to "turn his [mug shot] into fuel for a fundraising drive, or as a potent new symbol on 2024 campaign merchandise."

Trump's campaign said Monday it had raised $7 million since he was indicted on Thursday.

Follow our live blog for the latest developments.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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