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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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How to Obtain Federal Arrest and Detention Records in Your Case

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:36 am


How to Obtain Federal Arrest and Detention Records in Your Case

Trying to get ahold of federal arrest or detention records for your case can be a real pain. Unlike state or local records that might be available online, federal records require jumping through some hoops. But it can be done if you know the process! This article will walk you through, step-by-step, how to get those pesky federal records.

Step 1: Figure Out Who Has the Records

First things first – you need to identify which federal agency arrested or detained the individual. This is important because each agency maintains their own records. Here are some of the main possibilities:

  • FBI – for arrests by FBI agents
  • DEA – for drug-related arrests by DEA agents
  • ATF – for arrests by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • ICE – for arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • US Marshals Service – for federal prisoners detained pre-trial or pre-sentencing
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons – for records after sentencing to federal prison

If you don’t know the arresting agency, you may need to do some digging through court filings or other case documents for clues. The arresting officer’s agency is usually listed. You can also check this list of federal law enforcement agencies to help narrow it down.

Step 2: Submit a FOIA Request

The main way to obtain federal arrest and detention records is through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. FOIA allows the public to request access to federal agency records, with some exceptions. Here’s how it works:

  1. Check the agency website for their FOIA procedures – most have forms you can fill out and submit online.
  2. Clearly identify the records your requesting – get specific with dates, locations, names, case numbers, etc.
  3. Provide info to help them locate records, like the arresting officer’s name.
  4. If needed, explain why you need the records and how they will benefit the public.
  5. Submit the request and wait – agencies have 20 business days to respond.

Be prepared that agencies might cite exemptions to withhold all or some records. Common exemptions include:

  • Invasion of personal privacy
  • Law enforcement techniques and procedures
  • Ongoing investigations and enforcement proceedings

You can appeal denials, but it’s an uphill battle. Still, a FOIA request is usually the best shot for getting federal arrest records.

Step 3: Be Persistent and Flexible

FOIA requests don’t always work out. Agencies miss deadlines. They claim exemptions that seem questionable. But don’t let obstacles stop you! Here are some tips:

  • Follow up if the agency misses their deadline – call and send emails.
  • Appeal any denial and be ready to negotiate – maybe they’ll release some records.
  • Try requesting less sensitive or redacted records if denied in full.
  • File lawsuits if needed – many states allow challenges to FOIA denials.

It also helps to make friends with agency FOIA officers. Building rapport and showing you understand their challenges can go a long way. A little empathy and patience can help get records that strict demands might not.

Alternative Routes to Get Federal Records

If FOIA fails, don’t give up yet! Here are some other options that might work:

  • File discovery motions requesting the records for your case.
  • Check court records like detention orders or presentence reports.
  • Contact the prosecutor and ask them to share records.
  • Hire a private investigator to uncover records.
  • Consult public databases like PACER for court documents.

You probably won’t get full arrest reports, mugshots, etc. but these alternatives can help piece together some of the facts. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

When All Else Fails, Focus on What You Can Control

Despite your best efforts, you might just hit a brick wall trying to get federal arrest records. It happens more than you might think. When you’ve exhausted all options, try shifting focus. Look ahead at building the strongest case possible with what you do have. Winning involves playing the hand your dealt, not the one you wish you had. Build compelling arguments. Seek witnesses and experts. There’s almost always more you can do to advance your case.

Trying to get federal records may feel frustrating and hopeless at times. But with the right strategy and persistence, you can often get at least some of what you need. And when you come up empty, don’t lose hope. Pivot to working with what you’ve got rather than what you don’t. With the right mindset and effort, you can still build a winning case!


Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
List of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies
5 U.S.C. § 552 – U.S. Code on FOIA

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